"I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know."
- Socrates

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." 
- Winston Churchill

"Unconventional Warfare is to Warfare as Acupuncture is to Medicine." 
-COL (RET) Jack Jensen, US Army SF, 3 May 2017

1. Afghan forces claim to kill al-Qaida propagandist wanted by FBI
2. US welcomes India's rise as a leading regional and global power
3.  US-India military alliance comes into view
4. China to impose sanctions on U.S. firms over Taiwan arms sales
5. The Marines Corps is rolling out a 'subversive' new strategy to take on China
6.  Options for the U.S. to Counter China's Disruptive Economic Activities
7. Japan, world's third largest economy, vows to become carbon-neutral by 2050
8. Mapping Agency Wants to ID Locations by Sound
9. Poll Shows Increase in American Support for Defending Taiwan
10. The Belt and Road Strategy Has Backfired on Xi
11. More than 77 percent willing to fight in the event of an invasion by China: poll
12. US, Indonesia agree to enhance military, maritime security ties
13. Social media is the greatest threat to US service members
14. XVIII Airborne crowdsources innovation in new competition
15. He Was Convicted of War Crimes and Pardoned by Trump. Now He Wants to Reform Military Justice
16. Operating at home: How to make SOF troops' transition to civilian life easier
17. Erik Prince's Private Wars

1. Afghan forces claim to kill al-Qaida propagandist wanted by FBI

Will this stem or increase violence?

Afghan forces claim to kill al-Qaida propagandist wanted by FBI

militarytimes.com · October 25, 2020
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan claimed Sunday it killed a top al-Qaida propagandist on an FBI most-wanted list during an operation in the country's east, showing the militant group's continued presence there as U.S. forces work to withdraw from America's longest-running war amid continued bloodshed.
The reported death of Husam Abd al-Rauf, also known by the nom de guerre Abu Muhsin al-Masri, follows weeks of violence, including a suicide bombing by the Islamic State group Saturday at an education center near Kabul that killed 24 people. Meanwhile, the Afghan government continues to fight Taliban militants even as peace talks in Qatar between the two sides take place for the first time.
The violence and al-Rauf's reported killing threaten the face-to-face peace talks and risk plunging this nation beset by decades of war into further instability. They also complicate America's efforts to withdraw, 19 years after it led an invasion targeting the Taliban for hosting al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Details over the raid that led to al-Rauf's alleged death remained murky hours after Afghanistan's intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security, claimed on Twitter to have killed him in Ghazni province. It said one of its members was also killed in the operation. The agency released a photograph late Sunday afternoon it described as al-Rauf's corpse, which resembled FBI images of the militant leader.
Al-Qaida did not immediately acknowledge al-Rauf's reported death. The FBI declined to comment. The U.S. military's Central Command and NATO did not respond to requests for comment.
The Afghan raid happened last week in Kunsaf, a village in Ghazni province's Andar district some 150 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Kabul, two government officials said.
Amanullah Kamrani, the deputy head of Ghazni's provincial council, told The Associated Press that Afghan special forces led by the intelligence agency raided Kunsaf, which he described as being under Taliban control. On the village's outskirts, they stormed an isolated home and killed seven suspected militants in a firefight, including al-Rauf, Kamrani said.
Neither Kamrani nor the intelligence agency offered details on how authorities identified al-Rauf, nor how they came to suspect he was in the village.
Wahidullah Jumazada, a spokesman for the provincial governor in Ghazni, said Afghan forces killed six suspected militants in the raid, without acknowledging al-Rauf had been killed.
Kamrani alleged, without providing evidence, that the Taliban had been offering shelter and protection to al-Rauf. The Taliban told the AP on Sunday they are investigating the incident.
If the Taliban had provided protection for al-Rauf, that would violate the terms of its Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. that jump-started the Afghan peace talks. That deal saw the Taliban agree "not to cooperate with groups or individuals threatening the security of the United States and its allies," which includes al-Qaida.
The Afghan presidential palace issued a statement Sunday saying al-Rauf had been killed and warning it "proved that the threat of terrorism and the Taliban's links to terrorist networks are still in place."
"The Taliban should prove to the people, the government of Afghanistan and the international community that they are ending their links with terrorist groups, including al-Qaida," the statement said. They "should stop the war and violence and facilitate a dignified and sustainable peace in the country."
Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York filed a warrant for al-Rauf's arrest in December 2018, accusing him of providing support to a foreign terrorist organization and being part of a conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. The FBI put him on the bureau's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, which now includes 27 others.
The red-headed al-Rauf, believed to be born in 1958, is an Egyptian national. An al-Qaida-issued biography said he joined the mujaheddin fighters who battled the Soviet Union in 1986.
He has served for years as al-Qaida's media chief, offering audio statements and written articles backing the militant group. After years of remaining silent following the acknowledgement of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar's death, al-Rauf reemerged in 2018 in an audio statement in which he mocked President Donald Trump and those who preceded him the White House.
"I name him 'Donald T-Rambo' who tries to copy the famous American fictional character 'Rambo,' who, with only a Kalashnikov, was able to liberate the entire Afghanistan from the Soviet Union," al-Rauf said, according to the SITE Intelligence Group.
The Afghan presidential palace described al-Rauf as "al-Qaida's leader for the Indian subcontinent." The National Directorate of Security referred to al-Rauf as having a close relationship with both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian now leading al-Qaida. It said he lived for years in hideouts in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
Meanwhile Sunday, authorities raised the death toll in Saturday's suicide attack on an education center near Kabul. The suicide bomber, who was stopped by guards from entering the center, killed 24 and wounded 57 - many of them young students.
The Islamic State group's local affiliate claimed credit for the attack in a heavily Shiite neighborhood of western Kabul's Dasht-e-Barchi neighborhood, saying one of its fighters used a suicide bomb vest in the assault. The Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group view Shiites as heretics and have repeatedly targeted them in attacks in Afghanistan, even after losing the territory of their so-called caliphate once spanning parts of Iraq and Syria.
Mourners later gathered on a dusty hillside to bury the youths killed by the bombing. An Afghan flag whipped in the wind above their heads as they prayed for, buried and quietly remembered those lost.
"They had no guns on hand," said one mourner named Azizullah, who like many Afghans uses one name. "They wanted to study and have a bright future for themselves and the country."
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

2. US welcomes India's rise as a leading regional and global power
This has the potential to alter the political, economic, and security landscape in Asia and around the world.

US welcomes India's rise as a leading regional and global power

outlookindia.com · by Outlook
By Lalit K Jha
Washington, Oct 26 (PTI) The United States welcomes India's emergence as a leading regional and global power, the US State Department said ahead of the 2+2 ministerial in New Delhi.
It also said the US is looking forward to work closely with India during the latter''s upcoming UNSC term, starting January 1, 2021.
"The United States welcomes India's emergence as a leading regional and global power. The United States looks forward to collaborating closely with India during its upcoming term on the UN Security Council," the State Department said in a fact sheet before the start of the 3rd 2+2 India US ministerial in New Delhi.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper will hold meetings with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh for the US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.
The visiting leaders will also meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and hold discussions with other government and business leaders on ways to advance the US-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership, it said.
In a fact sheet, the State Department said the two countries have a strong and growing bilateral relationship built on shared values and a commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.
As the world's oldest and largest democracies, the United States and India enjoy deeply rooted democratic traditions, it added.
"The growth in the partnership reflects a deepening strategic convergence on a range of issues. Our cooperation is expanding in important areas including health, infrastructure development, energy, aviation, science, and space," it said, adding that holding the third US-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in just over two years demonstrates a high-level commitment to their shared diplomatic and security objectives.
President Donald Trump made a historic visit to India earlier this year, speaking in Ahmedabad before over 100,000 people.
Pompeo's visit marks the fourth visit to India by a Secretary of State during the Trump Administration.
According to the State Department, the recent Quadrilateral Ministerial meeting in Tokyo convened by Pompeo and his counterparts from India, Japan, and Australia, demonstrated the strong cooperative ties among Indo-Pacific democracies interested in strengthening a rules-based order in which all nations are sovereign, strong, and prosperous.
"The Quad has proven to be an effective multilateral mechanism, helping to create resilient supply chains, promote transparency, counter disinformation and increase maritime security," it said.
India, with its large economy, strong support for entrepreneurship and innovation, and its growing international trade, is one of the world's leading economic powers and is well-positioned to promote our shared vision for a free and rules-based Indo-Pacific where all nations can prosper, it said.
Observing that India and the US are expanding cooperation between the two militaries, the fact sheet said this includes the navies, which play a critical role in ensuring freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific.
In July 2020, the Indian Navy successfully completed a passing exercise with the US Navy as the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group transited through the Indian Ocean Region.
In 2019, the US and India held their first-ever tri-service exercise, Tiger Triumph, in which the US Navy and Marines, Air Force, and Army participated in a bilateral exercise with their Indian counterparts. The United States welcomes Australia joining the Malabar naval exercise alongside India and Japan, it added.
Noting that defence trade has increased significantly over the past two decades, the State Department said India maintains the largest fleets of C-17 and P-8 aircraft outside the United States and as of 2020, the United States has authorized more than $20 billion in defence sales to India.
"The United States and India enjoy robust defence industrial cooperation. Through the US- India Defense Technology and Trade Initiative, the United States and India work together on co-production and co-development of defence equipment," it said. PTI LKJ RAX RAX
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI

3. US-India military alliance comes into view
I hope this does not jinx the US-India relationship of the Quad and the Quad PLus.  India has long been proud of its non-aligned status and I as understand it has never desired to be part of any alliance structure. I hope that is changing.

This is a very interesting perspective: "It is impossible to decide which of two things caused the other one - the mushrooming US-Indian military alliance, or the continuing downhill slide in the India-China relationship."

US-India military alliance comes into view

The 2+2 US-Indian security dialogue in New Delhi on Tuesday will raise a range of Indo-Pacific challenges with a focus on China
asiatimes.com · by MK Bhadrakumar · October 26, 2020
The mystery about the awkward timing of the so-called 2+2 US-Indian security dialogue to be held in New Delhi on Tuesday, October 27, is largely because there is a chicken-and-egg situation about it.
It is impossible to decide which of two things caused the other one - the mushrooming US-Indian military alliance, or the continuing downhill slide in the India-China relationship.
There is a curious dialectic at work. On the one hand, the US-Indian military alliance was struggling to take off, notwithstanding the 2008 nuclear deal, but it began accelerating after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.
On the other hand, the Sino-Indian relationship that had acquired a degree of predictability during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule steadily, inexplicably, began degrading under Prime Minister Narendra Modi's watch and has been reduced to a state of acute rivalry bordering on motiveless malignity.
The paradox lies here - Indians at large have tunnel vision on the mushrooming alliance with the US (the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue being its most visible template), while the Americans have a much broader global vision of what they are methodically building with India.
Within this paradox, there is also an enigma: The Indians at large harbor a notion that their country is cherrypicking out of the American basket of goodies, but the policymakers in New Delhi and the political leadership are well aware that it can only be a pipe dream, since a military alliance with a superpower is a profound, irrevocable commitment.
American analysts lavishly compliment Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar as the mechanic who is assembling the Quad, keeping his head below the parapet.
Indian External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has been a key player. Photo: AFP/Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency
Some Indian analysts have tended to see the 2+2 on Tuesday, just a week before the November 3 US election, as a rushed event. But they fail to comprehend the great deliberateness about the timing of the 2+2 meeting.
It must be held now, precisely now, before November 3, for the reason that even a week later, a host of uncertainties could arise if a Joe Biden presidency sails into view. As the saying goes, there could be many a slip between the cup and the lip.
And all those nuts and bolts Jaishankar has been screwing into the prototype in his closed garage - the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) being the finishing touch - may start rusting if a cranking of the engine doesn't happen now.
After such a long effort, hidden from public view, the engine has been assembled, but in order to get it running, it first needs to be rotated at sufficient speed so the fuel gets pumped up to the cylinders and ignited, and enables the engine to run on its own power.
Any car mechanic would know that cranking the engine is necessary at this point to make sure he can get the engine to power itself.
A defining moment has come for the US-Indian military alliance. The test driver is flying in from the US. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is bringing Defense Secretary Mark Esper for the prestigious assignment to test the efficacy of the US-Indian military alliance. It could not and should not be delayed.
The Indian side has a problem with Esper, a thorough professional with a remarkable record - an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne ("Screaming Eagles") who saw active service during Desert Storm and the Gulf War (awarded the Bronze Star); graduated in engineering from the Military Academy at West Point, New York; holds a master's from Kennedy School at Harvard and a PhD from George Washington University; and was Secretary of the Army before taking over as Pentagon chief.
US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (R) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army US Army General Mark Milley, on September 22, 2020, in Washington. Photo: AFP/Olivier Douliery
Esper neither has a counterpart in India's Ministry of Defense nor any counterpart in Modi's cabinet who matches up to him in erudition and professional skill. That is what makes the transcript of his "conversation" with the chief executive officer and president of the Atlantic Council, Frederick Kempe, on October 20 - in anticipation of his trip to India - a must-read.
Esper thoughtfully picked as the topic for his discussion "Strengthening US Alliances and Partnerships in an Era of Great-Power Competition" - just what his trip to India is all about.
Esper gave us a fantastic preview of the roadmap he would be carrying to Delhi to test-drive the engine that Jaishankar assembled. The following elements that Esper highlighted are worth summarizing, largely in his own words:
The Pentagon's "No 1 priority" is implementing the US National Defense Strategy, which enumerates that the US is presently "in an area of great-power competition, with our primary competitors being China and Russia."
In this context, the Pentagon pursues three "lines of effort: first, improving the lethality and readiness of the [US] force; second, strengthening alliances and building partnerships; and third, reforming the [Defense] Department to redirect our time, money and manpower to our highest priorities."
A network of allies and partners is crucial as it "provides us [the US] an asymmetric advantage our adversaries cannot match ... China and Russia have probably fewer than 10 allies combined."
However, the US cannot rest its oars as "our primary competitors - China and Russia - are rapidly modernizing their armed forces ... and shift the balance of power in their favor ...and undermine the resilience and cohesion of countries and institutions critical to US security, including NATO."
The US has cultivated numerous military alliances, like this one with Georgia, and is hoping to expand its alliance with India. Photo: AFP/Vano Shlamov
This will "require us to think and act more strategically and competitively." The Pentagon has "two recent initiatives that will help us to do just that" - a new Department of Defense Guidance for Development of Alliances and Partnerships (GDAP) and so-called Defense Trade Modernization.
Together, these two instruments will help the US to "build the capacity and capabilities of like-minded nations and foster interoperability with friendly militaries," while also providing stimulus to the American arms industry so it "can compete in the global marketplace."
The GDAP aims to reorientate the United States' engagements with allies and partners from the traditional mode of "regional priorities and interests" toward the new era of great-power competition that is global in nature, which requires a "common set of priorities."
The Pentagon has a "toolkit" for this purpose, which consists of intensively cultivating senior military officials in foreign militaries and the Foreign Military Sales program.
FMS is crucial insofar as it helps the US better utilize its premier equipment, technology and systems "as a strategic tool" to help the partners' war-fighting capabilities as well as build interoperability. In the process, of course, it also keeps the US arms industry innovative and competitive in the global marketplace.
Besides, the FMS also counters the Chinese and Russian state-owned arms industries, which are fiercely competing "to expand their share of the world's weapons market," "attract other countries into their security networks" and frustrate the United States' efforts to cultivate relationships.
Esper summed up that the 2+2 dialogue in Delhi on Tuesday would reflect "our nations' ever-increasing convergence on the strategic issues of our time." He drew satisfaction that the trajectory of military exercises, cyber-defense dialogue and so on through recent months "will strengthen what may become one of the most consequential partnerships of the 21st century."
Interestingly, Esper disclosed that this month there was a meeting of the so-called Five Eyes forum - an intelligence grouping of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand - where "we talked about the challenges in the Indo-Pacific, and how do we - how do we cooperate together? How do we confront these challenges to sovereignty, to the international rules-based order, to freedom of navigation?
"So you see a lot more closer collaboration come out. And this'll be reflected in our meetings next week in New Delhi, as well, when we travel there."
This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotterwhich provided it to Asia Times.
M K Bhadrakumar is a former Indian diplomat.
Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now.
4. China to impose sanctions on U.S. firms over Taiwan arms sales
Is this unexpected?

China to impose sanctions on U.S. firms over Taiwan arms sales

in.reuters.com · by Reuters Staff
By Reuters Staff
2 Min Read
BEIJING (Reuters) - China will impose sanctions on Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defense, Raytheon and other U.S. companies it says are involved in Washington's arms sales to Taiwan, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday.
FILE PHOTO: Flags of Taiwan and U.S. are placed for a meeting between U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce speaks and with Su Chia-chyuan, President of the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, Taiwan March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu//File Photo
Zhao Lijian told journalists that China was acting to protect its national interest, but did not spell out what form the sanctions would take.
The U.S. State Department has approved the potential sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery that could have a total value of $1.8 billion, the Pentagon said last week.
Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province it has vowed to bring under control, by force if necessary.
"To safeguard our national interests, China decided to take necessary measures and levy sanctions on U.S. companies such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing Defence, and Raytheon, and those individuals and companies who behaved badly in the process of the arms sales," Zhao said.
China has imposed sanctions on Lockheed Martin and other U.S. companies in the past for selling weapons to Taiwan, though it is unclear what form the penalties have taken.
The United States, like most countries, has no official diplomatic ties with Taiwan, but Washington is bound by law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.
The Trump administration has ramped up support for Taiwan through arms sales and visits by senior U.S officials, adding to tensions in relations between Beijing and Washington, already strained by disagreements over the South China Sea, Hong Kong, human rights and trade.
A spokesman for Boeing said in an emailed statement that the company's partnership with China's aviation community had long-term benefits and that Boeing remained committed to it.
Lockheed Martin said in an emailed statement that all of its international military sales are strictly regulated by the U.S. government, and that its presence in China is limited.
Raytheon did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian, Gabriel Crossley and Stella Qiu; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Tomasz Janowski and Andrew Heavens

5. The Marines Corps is rolling out a 'subversive' new strategy to take on China
I could not find this article on the Responsible Statecraft web site (note author attribution).  

I found this an interesting excerpt.  The "subversion" is that the USMC "example" could force the other services to do more with less and divest their "exquisite capabilities."
If there is a bottom line here, it is that while Berger partisans argue that his guidance is "visionary, disruptive and transformational," his detractors use the same adjectives to highlight its weaknesses: It's too visionary, too disruptive and too transformational.
But it's also "subversive," as the Marine veteran of Afghanistan told me. "If Berger is right, if it's possible to do better with less, than why can't the Army, Navy and Air Force do the same?" he asks. "If Berger's planning guidance is the wave of the future, then why are the Army, Navy and Air Force stuck in the past?"
Which suggests other, yet to be answered, questions: If aircraft carriers and other "expensive and exquisite capabilities" (as Berger describes them) are vulnerable, then why do we continue to build and deploy them?

The Marines Corps is rolling out a 'subversive' new strategy to take on China

Business Insider · by Mark Perry, Responsible Statecraft
US Marines conduct a simulated amphibious assault during exercise Talisman Sabre 19 in Bowen, Australia, July 22, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Lance Cpl. Tanner D. Lambert
  • In August 2019, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger published his Commandant's Planning Guidance, detailing a dramatic shift in the Marine Corps' force structure.
  • It positions the Marines to take on China, but it also makes a subversive proposal to take on a sophisticated rival with cheaper capabilities than what the other branches are pursuing.
US Marine officers are notoriously dismissive of those who talk about strategy. "Strategy?" a Marine who served in Vietnam says. "Here was our strategy: hey-diddle-diddle, straight-up-the-middle."
The description rings true: The Marine Corps' most famous fights were straight-ahead affairs that gave the Corps its most celebrated moments: at Belleau Wood (in World War I), at Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa (in World War II), at Inchon (during Korea), at Hue (in Vietnam) and, most recently during the battles for Fallujah, back in 2004. Now, it seems, all of that is changing.
In August of last year, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger published his Commandant's Planning Guidance, a detailed recasting of the Marine Corps' force structure.
By any measure, Berger's guidance marked a breathtaking shift away from the service's urban combat focus and its follow-on mandate of "countering violent extremists in the Middle East" to a "great power/peer level competition, with special emphasis on the Indo Pacific..."
US Marines during an amphibious exercise as part of exercise KAMANDAG 3 in the Philippines, October 12, 2019.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani
The shift, Berger admits, is sweeping: "from inland to littoral, and from non-state actor to peer competitor." The guidance reduces tank companies (from 7 to 0), artillery batteries (from 21 to 5), infantry battalions (from 24 to 21), amphibious vehicle companies (from 6 to 4), helicopter attack squadrons (from 7 to 5), and the number of F-35Bs in its air squadrons.
The guidance eliminates law enforcement battalions and bridging companies. And the force itself will be cut by some 12,000 personnel over a period of 10 years. More simply: Berger's guidance ("to be clear, it's not really a new strategy," one senior Marine officer notes, "it's more like a new operational concept") cuts structure in favor of adopting "long range precision fires, advanced reconnaissance capabilities, unmanned systems and resilient networks."
The shift is here to stay: Berger clamped a non-disclosure requirement on participants in the wargames that led to the rethinking and, just last week, cancelled the "Metropolis II" exercise testing tactics the Marines would adopt to fight in cities. Instead, the service will focus on building a new Marine Littoral Regiment (an MLR) that would allow it to operate on small atolls and islands against a projected threat in the Pacific - read: China.
Berger's new MLR is billed as "dispersed, agile and constantly relocating" (a combat team, a logistics element and an anti-air battalion), and delivered to the battleground by a yet-to-be-designed class of amphibious ships. Dispersed and agile? For Berger's critics, the MLR looks more like a Navy landing party (of some 1800 swabees) than an all-arms 3600 trooper Marine regiment of hardcore fighters. Berger would almost certainly reject the claim, but his guidance ties his service more closely to the Navy than it has been since the Marines landed on Guadalcanal.
"During World War II, we as a Service, clearly understood that Marines operated in support of the Navy's sea control mission," the guidance argues. "In subsequent years, the luxury of presumptive maritime superiority deluded us into thinking the Navy existed to support 'Marine' operations ashore. That era was a historic anomaly, and we need to re-focus on how we will fulfill our mandate to support the fleet."
A Marine drives an assault amphibious vehicle onto amphibious assault ship USS San Diego, off the coast of Hawaii during exercise Rim of the Pacific 2016.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Giannetti/US Marine Corps
Berger's guidance earned initial praise, even from would-be detractors ("it's one of the most well-written documents to come out of the Pentagon in a long while," a US Army force planner admitted), as well as a host of respected military thinkers, including Dr. James Lacey, a former US infantry officer and director for War, Policy, and Strategy at the Marine Corps War College. "I think Berger has boldly taken the Corps in a direction it must go as we reenter a period of great state competition," he wrote in an email.
More crucially, Chris Brose, the former staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee - whose questions to the services in 2018 helped to fuel Berger's thinking - told columnist David Ignatius that the new Marine guidance "looks reality in the face and says we've got to make changes. He doesn't hedge, he doesn't fudge. He makes choices. He's thrown down the gauntlet for the other services."
Not everyone agrees. An early and outspoken critic of Berger was James Webb, a former Marine Corps officer, Vietnam veteran and secretary of the Navy.
For Webb, the Berger guidance reads like a pointy-headed powerpoint presentation cooked up by draft dodging Marine Corps wannabes: "Interestingly, when citing his philosophical inspiration at the outset of his proposal, General Berger chose to ignore two centuries of innovation and ground-breaking role models who guided the Marine Corps through some of its most difficult challenges," Webb wrote in a much-circulated article in The National Interest. "The giants of the past - John LeJeune, Arthur Vandegrift, Clifton Cates, Robert Barrow and Al Gray, just for starters - were passed over, in favor of a quote from a professor at the Harvard Business School who never served. Many Marines, past and present, view this gesture as a symbolic putdown of the Corps' respected leadership methods and the historic results they have obtained."
Webb's critique is echoed by other experts, including Dr. Williamson "Wick" Murray, one of the nation's most respected defense thinkers.
"The Marines are the most intellectual of all services," Murray told me in an extensive telephone interview, "so I'm a little surprised that the guidance leaves so many unanswered questions. It goes too far in stripping out capabilities, lacks important details on how these capabilities will be replaced and doesn't provide strategic solutions to strategic challenges. This guidance needs to be more nuanced and more flexible. It's not. It puts everything on the table for countering China, but if history teaches us anything it's that the enemy you get is rarely the one you plan for."
Murray also notes the unease that greeted the guidance from the US Navy. "The big assumption here is that the Navy wants to cooperate, that it'll be a willing partner. Maybe: but its yet to be seen whether they're capable of taking this on."
A senior US Navy strategist, speaking on background because of the sensitivity of the topic, agrees: "The Navy has largely ignored strategy and focused on what to buy and how to buy it, then figuring out how to use what they have." Which is to say that the Navy leadership seems strangely out of touch with what Berger is doing - a kind of hey-diddle-diddle-let's-buy-more-ships focus that retains its legacy platforms (Berger dubs them "large ships" - like aircraft carriers - "with large electronic, acoustic, or optical signatures") at the same time that the Marines are shedding theirs.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David H. Berger, August 8, 2018.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Patrick Mahoney
That the Navy seems relatively clueless is something of a surprise, since the Navy that was one of the first services to pivot to Asia.
In 2010, Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, and Gen. Norton Schwartz, the head of the Air Force, signed a classified memorandum directing their services to develop "AirSea Battle" - a new operational concept designed to overcome China's development of anti-access and area denial weapons. The idea was to find ways to preserve the US military's access to the Western Pacific.
"The Air Force and Navy arrived, almost simultaneously, at the same 'aha' moment," defense intellectual and Navy expert Bryan McGrath told me in 2015. "They saw that there was a power rising that could challenge what each of them do best. For the Navy, that's power projection - and for the Air Force, that's air power. And for decades, neither of those battle spaces was in jeopardy. But suddenly, with what China was doing, that was no longer true. Suddenly, there was a power in the Pacific that was going to challenge the way they fight."
Retired US Army Colonel Kevin Benson, one of his service's premier thinkers, puts it this way: "Close combat is a thing of the past," he says. "If the enemy knows where you are, he can kill you. We live in an era of hypersonic weapons and satellite-linked units. So you have to get under that umbrella, you have to look for a seam in his defenses, or you have to create one. You have to put more fire on the bad guy faster than he can respond. Berger's guidance is incomplete, but that's what he's trying to do."
Berger's thinking reflects this reality. "The rapid expansion of China's area-denial capabilities, coupled with its pivot to the sea . . . have fundamentally transformed the environment in which the U.S. military will operate for the foreseeable future," Berger wrote in an article in War on the Rocks last December. "For the first time in a generation, sea control is no longer the unquestioned prerogative of the United States."
To counter this, the Marines will deploy "low cost, lethal air and ground unmanned platforms, unmanned long range surface and subsurface vehicles, mobile, rapidly deployable rocket systems, long range precision fires, loitering munitions... mobile air defense and counter-precision guided munitions capabilities, signature management, electronic warfare and expeditionary airfields."
Marines place an RQ-21A Blackjack drone on a launcher at Bradshaw Field Training Area in Australia's Northern Territory, August 8, 2020.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Harrison Rakhshani
But while Berger's focus is on China, some Pentagon officials suspect that other realities are driving his thinking.
Berger says as much one-third of the way through his guidance: "The principle challenge facing the Marine Corps today," he writes, "lies in continuing to fulfill its charter as the naval expeditionary force-in-readiness, while simultaneously modernizing the force ... with potentially fewer Marines, and a possible reduction in total resources." Berger makes it clear that he's willing to "secure additional modernization dollars in exchange for force structure ..." - another way of saying that the Marines are willing to live with fewer numbers so long as they get new weapons.
In truth, the Marines may not have a choice: Pentagon officials concede that the services are entering an era of flatline or even plunging budget authorizations at the same time that they're having difficulty signing up and retaining new recruits. It's easy to say you're going to have fewer Marines when no one is showing up at your recruiting stations. Among Berger's critics are those who discuss his ideas while giving a wink-wink at this reality: The enemy the Marines are fighting isn't China, they say, it's the defense budget.
But suggesting that it's the budget, and not China, that is behind Berger's thinking brings often angry responses from those paid to think about naval strategy.
"Usually when budgets flatline, services become conservative and double down on what they consider to be their 'core,'" the senior naval strategist to whom I spoke, says. "That's doesn't seem to be what the Marines are doing here ... This is really just the Marines figuring out how to do their job."
Finally, the guidance's most outspoken critics, including one senior Marine who served in Afghanistan, point out that Berger plans to fight China with "units yet to be formed, transported on amphibious ships yet to be built, linked by networks yet to be developed and armed with anti-missile capabilities yet to be tested."
The rejoinder from the Navy strategy expert with whom I spoke is pointed: "Does a lack of completed technology mean that you don't start pushing forward? The Marines worked on amphibious doctrine before the Higgins Boat was done [in World War II] and worked on helicopter doctrine way before they had helos with the range and capacity to actually do it. Working on the technology hasn't stopped the Marines before."
A Reconnaissance Marine on a UH-1Y Venom helicopter provides aerial security during a Visit Board Search and Seizure (VBSS) exercise, September 5, 2020.
US Marine Corps/Cpl. Brandon Salas
Of course, there is also an unstated agenda here, as any number of Berger critics note.
The new guidance positions the Marines as the lead service for the emergent and increasingly empowered China-is-the-enemy lobby. And while that view is far from an accepted fact, the guidance will help sell it. Or, to paraphrase one Asia expert: If you treat China like an enemy, and name them as an enemy, you're going to get what you ask for.
It's a smart move for Berger and his service, but it's also transparent - and cynical: In an era of flatlining or eroding budget numbers, the Marines can not only claim to be "the first to fight"; they can claim to be the first in line to get the anti-China defense dollars. Which, presumably, is exactly where Berger wants them to be.
If there is a bottom line here, it is that while Berger partisans argue that his guidance is "visionary, disruptive and transformational," his detractors use the same adjectives to highlight its weaknesses: It's too visionary, too disruptive and too transformational.
But it's also "subversive," as the Marine veteran of Afghanistan told me. "If Berger is right, if it's possible to do better with less, than why can't the Army, Navy and Air Force do the same?" he asks. "If Berger's planning guidance is the wave of the future, then why are the Army, Navy and Air Force stuck in the past?"
Which suggests other, yet to be answered, questions: If aircraft carriers and other "expensive and exquisite capabilities" (as Berger describes them) are vulnerable, then why do we continue to build and deploy them?
"The Navy, especially, needs to provide answers," this Marine says, "and the last time I checked, Berger's office was on the same corridor as the chief of naval operations. So if he really wants to know what the Navy thinks, all he has to do is walk down the hall and ask."

6. Options for the U.S. to Counter China's Disruptive Economic Activities
A key point: "The PRC will continue to project influence and hold an alternative vision for the world economy. The objective is to demonstrate the value of free markets to developing states and tie regional interests to ROC's quasi-independent status."

Options for the U.S. to Counter China's Disruptive Economic Activities

divergentoptions.org · by Divergent Options · October 26, 2020
Editor's Note: This article is part of our Below Threshold Competition: China writing contest which took place from May 1, 2020 to July 31, 2020. More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.
Johnathan Falcone is a United States Naval officer, entrepreneur, and graduate of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. He can be found on Twitter @jdfalc1. Divergent Options' content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: The People's Republic of China's (PRC) economic activities threaten the U.S.-led financial order.
Date Originally Written: June 02, 2020.
Date Originally Published: October 26, 2020.
Author and / or Article Point of View: The author believes that conflict between the U.S. and China is underway, and China has fired the first salvos in the economic and financial domains. The article is from the perspective of U.S. economic strategy to maintain competition below the threshold of kinetic war.
Background: The PRC emerged from the 2008 financial crisis with increased capability to influence markets abroad and undermine U.S. leadership. Through new institutions, such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and new development plans, including Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China is making strides towards bifurcating the international financial system[1].
Significance: Beijing uses its growing economic might to erode international support for the Republic of China (ROC) (Taiwan / Taipei)- the most likely source of armed conflict - and to increase military capacity beyond its shores[2]. Coercive economic strategies like tacit regional acquiescence and strategic land acquisition threaten the non-kinetic nature of today's competitive environment[3]. Below are economic-based options to strengthen the existing U.S.-built financial order while simultaneously limiting the PRC's capacity to project regional influence and stage wartime assets.
Option #1: The U.S. takes action via proxy and encourages Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries to increase bi-lateral trade volume with the ROC.
For countries in China's near-abroad, diplomatic recognition of Taiwan is not possible. On the other hand, increasing trade with the ROC, a World Trade Organization member, is less provocative.
Risk: As Taiwan's largest trading partner, China will threaten and apply economic pressure to achieve political aims on the island. If Taiwan diversified its trade activity, economic coercion may no longer prove effective. This ineffectiveness might encourage China to pivot to military pressure against Taipei and its citizens. Substantiating this concern is the fact that China has already demonstrated its willingness to aggressively protect its economic interests in the South China Sea[4].
Further, the existing One-China Policy may be endangered if an increase in bi-lateral partnerships appeared to be U.S.-orchestrated. Although ROC independence would not be explicitly recognized, encouraging action symbolically consistent with an independent international actor could increase military posturing between the U.S. and China, as seen in the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits Crisis[5]. If tensions were to heighten again, the U.S. Navy would be opposing a much more capable People's Liberation Army-Navy force than in previous crises.
Gain: In addition to limiting China's ability to apply economic pressure, bi-lateral trade would tie regional interests to ROC. China's BRI has undermined relationships between ROC and neighboring countries, reducing incentives to aid Taiwan militarily and limiting U.S. military capacity to respond if China were to act aggressively in the region[6]. Substantive partnerships with the ROC create de facto buy-in to the U.S.-led financial system, increasing the number of potential partners to assist U.S. forces in case of war.
Option #2: The U.S. lowers barriers to trade and access to markets by joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade agreement.
The original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was developed as part of the U.S.' "strategic pivot to Asia" during President Obama's administration. President Trump campaigned that he would withdraw the United States from negotiations and did so in 2017.
Risk: The new CPTPP has left the door open for the PRC to join[7]. If Beijing and Washington were members of the same trade zone, it would become easier for both to circumvent tariffs, thereby undermining each state's ability to compete with non-military tools.
Also, when it comes to CPTPP, friction exists between U.S. grand strategy and domestic politics. TPP received harsh opposition from both the political left and right[8][9]. Although there was agreement that there would likely be overall economic growth, many feared that American middle-class workers would be negatively impacted. As such, this option may be politically untenable.
Gain: This option encourages regional buy-in to the U.S.-led financial order. CPTPP already creates a new market bloc that will bring about economic prosperity under U.S.-influenced rules. U.S. membership in the agreement would amplify its benefits. Chinese markets will have to liberalize to remain competitive, undermining the PRC's alternative offerings to nearby states.
Today, China bullies developing countries into economic agreements with political concessions in exchange for access to Chinese markets[10]. U.S. entrance into CPTPP would decrease both PRC coercive power and regional dependency on Chinese markets.
Option #3: The U.S. leverages international institutions and assists strategically significant holders of Chinese debt obligations to refinance through the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
China infamously financed the Hambantota Port Project, a port in southern Sri Lanka with access to the Indian Ocean. When the project failed, China negotiated a deal with Sri Lanka and now owns the port and surrounding land, granting Beijing unchallenged access to strategic waterways[11].
Risk: Existing tensions between Western and the five BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) states could be exacerbated at the World Bank and IMF. BRICS nations have routinely called for fundamental reforms to the Bretton Woods system to reflect the rising economic influence of developing states[12]. This financial intervention to refinance Chinese debt through Western channels could accelerate BRICS' efforts to develop a competing financial channel.
Gain: Beijing touts development projects in the Maldives and Djibouti, whose outstanding debt owed to China stands at 30 percent and 80 percent of their national Gross Domestic Products, respectively[13]. Default by either state would resign strategic territory in the Indian Ocean and mouth of the Red Sea to the PRC. Refinancing would ensure China does not acquire access to these strategic staging areas and would demonstrate the liberal financial system's willingness to protect vulnerable states from predatory practices.
Other Comments: The PRC will continue to project influence and hold an alternative vision for the world economy. The objective is to demonstrate the value of free markets to developing states and tie regional interests to ROC's quasi-independent status.
Recommendation: None.
[1] Hillman, J. (2020, March 13). A 'China Model?' Beijing's Promotion of Alternative Global Norms and Standards. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-model-beijings-promotion-alternative-global-norms-and-standards.
[2] Kynge, J. (2020, July 10). China, Hong Kong and the world: is Xi Jinping overplaying his hand? Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/a0eac4d1-625d-4073-9eee-dcf1bacb749e.
[3] Leung, Z. (2020, May 15). The Precarious Triangle: China, Taiwan, and United States. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/05/the-precarious-triangle-china-taiwan-and-united-states; Kristof, N. (2019, September 4). This Is How a War With China Could Begin. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/04/opinion/china-taiwan-war.html.
[4] Stavridis, J. (2020, May 30). World cannot ignore Chinese aggression in South China Sea. Retrieved from https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/World-cannot-ignore-Chinese-aggression-in-South-China-Sea.
[5] Suettinger, R. (2003). Beyond Tiananmen: The Politics of U.S.-China Relations, 1989-2000. Brookings Institution Press.
[6] Meick, E., Ker, M., & Chan, H.M. (2018, June 14). China's Engagement in the Pacific Islands:
Implications for the United States. Retrieved from https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/China-Pacific%20Islands%20Staff%20Report.pdf.
[7] Zhou, W., & Gao, H. (2020, June 7). China and the CPTPP: is it time to rethink Beijing's involvement in the trans-Pacific trade pact? Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/economy/article/3087725/china-and-cptpp-it-time-rethink-beijings-involvement-trans-pacific-trade.
[8] Stiglitz, J. (2016, March 28). Why TPP Is a Bad Deal for America and American Workers. Retrieved from https://rooseveltinstitute.org/why-tpp-bad-deal-america-and-american-workers
[9] McBride, J. & Chatzky, A. (2019, January 4). What Is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)? Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/what-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp.
[10] Grossman, D., & Chase, M.S. (2019, December 9). What Does Beijing Want from the Pacific Islands? Retrieved from https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/12/what-does-beijing-want-from-the-pacific-islands.html.
[11] Abi-habib, M. (2018, June 25). How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough up a Port. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html
[12] Gangopadhyay, A., & Kala, A.V. (2012, March 29). Brics Wants World Bank, IMF Reforms. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303816504577311012331186378.
[13] The Economic Times. (2019, May 09). China Building 'International Network of Coercion through Predatory Economics': US. Retrieved from https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/business/china-building-international-network-of-coercion-through-predatory-economics-us/articleshow/69257396.cms.
7. Japan, world's third largest economy, vows to become carbon-neutral by 2050

The Washington Post · October 26, 2020
TOKYO - Japan's new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, committed his country on Monday to reaching a target of zero emissions of greenhouse gases and achieving a carbon-neutral society by 2050, with a "fundamental shift" in policy on coal use.
Suga outlined the major move in his country's attitude toward climate change in his first policy speech to Japan's parliament since taking office last month.
"Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth," Suga said. "We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth."
Suga said innovation was key to achieving the goal, including next-generation solar cells and carbon recycling, and he promised investment in research and development, as well as deregulation and "green investment."
Japan, the world's third-largest economy and its fifth-largest emitter of carbon dioxide, has come under intense criticism from international environmental groups for continuing to build and finance coal-fired power plants, both at home and abroad.
It had previously made a commitment only to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2050 and achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. Now, however, it is following in the footsteps of the European Union, which vowed last year to become carbon-neutral by 2050, and China, whose President Xi Jinping set a similar target for 2060 only last month.
"It's pretty powerful," said Takashi Hongo, senior fellow at Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute. "He was emphasizing a fundamental shift, and that indicates how strongly he feels about the change that needs to be made."
Hongo said the shift would be very difficult to achieve, especially going from an 80 percent cut to carbon neutrality, but he said it was achievable with the right policies.
China's recent decision to aim for carbon neutrality by 2060, as well as the prospect that Joe Biden may win the U.S. presidency, may have influenced Suga, he added.
In 2017, Japan sourced more than 40 percent of its electrical power supplies from coal and oil, with natural gas accounting for an additional 40 percent. Renewable energy made up about 16 percent, while nuclear power, still recovering from the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima accident, made up just 3 percent.
Under its current Basic Energy Plan, it aims to increase the share of renewables to 22 to 24 percent by 2030, and nuclear power to between 20 and 22 percent, although it is expected to unveil new targets next year.
"If Japan and the rest of the world are to avoid the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis, it is precisely this kind of action that the world needs," said Sam Annesley, executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
But Annesley said Japan needs to back up the announcement with a major shift toward renewable energy in its upcoming energy plan "if this rhetoric is to be made reality."
Arguing that the Fukushima disaster shows that nuclear energy "has no place in a green, sustainable future," Annesley said Japan should aim to produce 50 percent of its electricity via renewable sources by 2030.
"Anything less than 50 percent and Japan risks falling short of net zero, and more importantly risks driving the world above 1.5 degrees as per the Paris agreement," he said, referring to the 2016 global pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions and tackle climate change.
Japanese Minister for Economy Hiroshi Kajiyama said the target would not be easy to meet. He vowed to bring together all the country's resources, including industry, government and academia, to achieve the goal while creating growth and business opportunities.
"We will work with the business world so a virtuous cycle with the economy can be created, he told a news conference after Suga's speech.
The government sees hydrogen as a new source of energy, he said, while also having high expectations for offshore wind power. Coal would be a feasible source of power only to the extent it could be offset by carbon capture, utilization and storage technology.
In the past, his ministry has been a strong backer of coal and nuclear power, but observers say it may hold less influence in the new Suga administration than it did under his predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
Still, a shift was already underway toward the end of the Abe administration in response to international pressure and gradually changing public opinion. Japan's banks were scaling back financing for coal power abroad and the government said it would "in principle" no longer subsidize the construction of coal-power thermal power plants overseas.
Fitch Solutions, a financial market risk analysis company, said the announcement will significantly boost Japan's electric and hydrogen-powered vehicle sector, which has been lagging behind those of Asian peers such as China, Hong Kong and South Korea.
"For that potential to be fully realized, Japan will need to ... start decommissioning coal power," said Eric Pedersen, head of responsible investments at Nordea Asset Management. "And as an absolute minimum, Japanese companies must stop building and financing new coal power abroad," he said in a statement.

8. Mapping Agency Wants to ID Locations by Sound
Fascinating contest and concept.

Mapping Agency Wants to ID Locations by Sound

If your technology can tell what city it's in just by listening, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency may have a prize for you.
defenseone.com · by Brandi Vincent
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency-the government's key intel force for pinpointing planetary happenings-announced it will dish out cash prizes for projects that can identify locations from audio and video data in an open innovation challenge.
Through the newly unveiled Soundscapes Competition, the agency will distribute up to eight awards, including a $27,000 top prize, for innovative, novel means to identify, analyze and model "sound and acoustic scene indicators" used to decipher the origination of recordings in one of eight cities.
"This is the first time NGA has sponsored a competition exploring the potential for using non-speech sound data to narrow in on the place where video or audio recordings were made," the agency's Research Image and Video Pod Lead Michelle Brennan told Nextgov over email Thursday.
She explained that NGA analysts obtain a great deal of expertise in leveraging data to geolocate activities, patterns, behaviors and features that are critically important to global intelligence and national security. "Over time, NGA has received more requests to geolocate the source of audio and video recordings, yet fewer of the recordings include any clear visual geographic features," she noted, adding that to confront the problem, the agency's research hones in "on other, non-visual information contained in the media," such as background sounds that could support geo-inferencing. Scientists within the organization recently conducted what Brennan called "an exhaustive literature study" to spot new assets that can help link non-speech sound to geolocating capabilities.
"Some interesting research in acoustics characterization has been conducted by academics, research institutes, and small businesses," Brennan said. "Based on that potential, NGA initiated the prize competition as a means of uncovering creative solutions, identifying and rewarding innovators, and considering potential collaborative efforts."
Matching a video or audio recording to a particular point somewhere on Earth can be incredibly challenging in itself, and Brennan further suggested that the increased ease of global travel and the growing diversity of populations has essentially made it even harder, as language in a recording can no longer be used to distinguish where it was made.
"Machine learning technology has advanced to the point that it can support models of complex acoustical patterns such as city sounds or the song of a particular species of bird," she explained. "Acoustical analysis can benefit from the convergence of sophisticated modelling capabilities across applications with modelling techniques originally developed for computer vision and speech analysis."
Through associating data with Earth's specific geographical areas, those evolving, technological capabilities can help augment NGA's continuing efforts in determining the "where" of things on this planet, in support of U.S. national security and defense aims. And relevant research into areas of sound scene characterization, environmental diversity measurement, bird species identification, and location of some specific sound events are already unfolding via a range of businesses, academic institutions, and research organizations.
"NGA is interested in working together with those who have conducted applicable research to apply it to geolocation," Brennan said. "Potential outcomes include a library of geolocated audio sound classes and scene signatures that could support a variety of novel and innovative uses."
The full Soundscapes Competition encompasses a five-week open period, ending November 27. During this time, those who get involved will produce and test machine learning solutions that can accurately link audio files to the city where they were recorded.
"NGA will examine the algorithms and evaluate potential for further collaborative development," Brennan confirmed.
Winners will be selected in December and the top solvers will receive an invitation to share their results during a special showcase at a conference in 2021.
"Opportunities such as this foster increased academic and private sector interest and research into the potential of acoustics and ambient sound as a novel GEOINT data stream," Brennan said.
9. Poll Shows Increase in American Support for Defending Taiwan
Hmmm.. should be useful for messaging and deterrence.

Poll Shows Increase in American Support for Defending Taiwan

U.S. public support for Taiwan's defense - as evidenced by a recent CSIS study - is also critical to deterring Chinese military action.
By Bonnie S. Glaser and Mathew P. Funaiole
October 23, 2020
thediplomat.com · October 23, 2020
President Tsai Ing-wen's re-election in Taiwan in January has been met with growing assertiveness from China. Beijing's ramped up military pressure against Taiwan has renewed questions about whether the United States would intervene if the island faced a blockade or invasion. Although the U.S. Congress has consistently signaled strong support for Taiwan, there has historically been less enthusiasm among the American public. However, new data suggests these views may be changing.
Annual surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA) consistently show tepid enthusiasm for Taiwan's defense among the American public. The recently released 2020 poll revealed that a mere 41 percent of Americans backed military action were China to invade Taiwan. Although hardly a ringing endorsement, these results show the highest level of support for Taiwan's defense since CCGA first posed the question to the public in 1982.
Were a contingency to arise in the Taiwan Strait, public pressure could hamstring a robust U.S. response and prove disastrous for Taipei. The CCGA surveys suggest that views among the public are slowly changing, and a newly released study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) offers further insight into how these perspectives are evolving.
This summer, CSIS surveyed the American public and thought leaders in the United States, Asia, and Europe to map perspectives on China and U.S. defense commitments in the Asia-Pacific (the authors were part of the research team). We asked respondents to gauge on a scale of 1 to 10 how important it is to defend U.S. allies and partners in the Asia-Pacific should they come under threat from China. These questions were designed so that a score of "1" meant it was not worth taking any risk to protect an ally or partner, and a "10" meant it was worth taking a significant risk.
The results show that Americans are, in fact, prepared to take a substantial risk to defend Taiwan. With a mean score of 6.69 out of 10, respondents from among the U.S. public gave stronger backing for defending Taiwan than Australia (6.38) and comparable to Japan (6.88), South Korea (6.92), as well as an unnamed ally or partner in the South China Sea (6.97).
Differences in views were most pronounced across different age cohorts. Older Americans (over 67 years old) proved to be the most willing to defend Taiwan, but there was a statistically significant gap between senior citizens and younger Americans (18-30 years old), who were the least supportive. Age proved to be a determining factor elsewhere in the study. Younger Americans showed only modest interest in defending partners in the region. This position is likely born out of the fact that our study also revealed that 50 percent of younger Americans think war with China is likely and another 15 percent believe it is inevitable.
Our project also tracked converging and diverging perspectives between the public and thought leaders. Across the board, thought leaders more enthusiastically supported defending partners in the region - including Taiwan. With a mean score of 7.93 out of 10, thought leaders demonstrated a willingness to take a considerable risk with regard to Taiwan, albeit somewhat less than the average mean score of 8.72 among U.S. treaty allies (Australia, Japan, and South Korea).
Of the constituencies polled, human rights experts pegged Taiwan's defense as the highest security priority, more so than all other U.S. allies and partners in the study. An impressive 57 percent of individuals who self-identified as being from the human rights community rated their response with the highest possible score of 10.
We expected thought leaders to prioritize Taiwan. Many within the policy community have, for years, labored to counter Chinese coercion against Taiwan and strengthen the island's security. There is also strong bipartisan support for Taiwan in the U.S. Congress. What was revealing was the degree to which experts were willing to accept risk on behalf of Taiwan's security.
Although tempered, we were surprised to also find support for Taiwan among the American public. The public is less inclined than thought leaders to incur risk overseas, but they did rate the defense of Taiwan of similar importance to that of long-standing allies.
This latter point provides a more refined understanding of how the public thinks about Taiwan compared to what can be gleaned from other surveys. One of the clearest findings from our data was that the public is significantly concerned about China. Fifty-four percent of Americans see China as the biggest challenge to the United States, more than double the amount primarily concerned about Russia (22 percent). Those most worried about China are, unsurprisingly, also those most interested in defending partners like Taiwan.
China's growing assertiveness in the region almost certainly plays a role in souring public opinion. Beijing has continued to rachet up its pressure campaign against Taipei, which ranges from disinformation campaigns to poaching some of Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies. Over the last several months, Chinese military aircraft have made an unprecedented number of incursions across the median line of the Taiwan Strait.
While many of these provocations may go unnoticed by those outside the policy community, Taiwan's precarious position as a small, vibrant democracy on the doorstep of China is more visible than ever. Rising authoritarianism, much of which stems from or is supported by Beijing, poses a fundamental threat to the U.S.-led international order. Leaders from both political parties have brought these shifting dynamics to the forefront of public discourse on foreign policy.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic likely also colors public opinion. With the pandemic continuing to rage across the United States, it logical that Americans are seeking effective government responses elsewhere. Taiwan boasts one of the most advanced health care systems in the world and provides universal coverage to the island's 23 million inhabitants. COVID-19 has had a much smaller impact on Taiwan than other industrialized economies, and the international community has lauded Taipei's effective handling of the outbreak.
Deterrence necessitates that China believes that the United States is likely to intervene should it attack Taiwan. The first step in making deterrence credible is ensuring that the U.S. military has the capabilities necessary to defend Taiwan and that Taiwan does its part to reinforce its security. Yet, public support for Taiwan's defense - as evidenced by the recent CSIS study - is also critical. It demonstrates a robust commitment to overseas partners, which in turn serves to bolster peace and stability in the region.
Bonnie S. Glaser is senior advisor for Asia and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Matthew P. Funaiole is a senior fellow with the China Power Project and senior fellow for data analysis with the iDeas Lab at CSIS.

10. The Belt and Road Strategy Has Backfired on Xi
I prefer OBOR.

The future of the BRI branding project is uncertain. The initiative is entangled with Xi's personal prestige. It is hard to imagine Xi's signature initiative falling away unless Xi himself falls first. More likely then, is that both international attention and party focus on the initiative will slowly taper off as the true motive force behind its projects, SOEs looking for easy money will determine that foreign money is no longer so easily made.
This may already be happening. The coronavirus crisis has crashed foreign demand, excess foreign reserves have already dwindled, and under the aegis of "dual circulation" the government is set to offer financial incentives to firms that reorient towards Chinese domestic consumption or move up the manufacturing value chain. The pageantry of the Belt and Road will live on. But if foreigners still quake at Chinese economic power at the end of this decade, it will not be because of Chinese road-building abroad, but instead the bounding strength of Chinese industry at home.

The Belt and Road Strategy Has Backfired on Xi

palladiummag.com · by Tanner Greer · October 24, 2020
Most who have heard of Xi Jinping's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) think of it as an exercise in economic statecraft. This hypothesis is wrong. The Belt and Road is less a geoeconomic power play than a marketing strategy. Few of the myriad projects and investment schemes labeled 'Belt and Road' exist because of the initiative as such. Grand strategists in Beijing did not cause the tremendous outbound flows of money, men, and material that comprise Belt and Road, and they cannot direct it either. What statesmen like Xi Jinping do have power to influence is how these flows are understood and perceived by the world. It is for this cause the Belt and Road Initiative was born.
From the beginning, this initiative has been less about using economic tools for geopolitical ends than using political, diplomatic, and propaganda tools to shape the global response to China's growing power. It is against this benchmark that the successes of BRI must be judged, and on these grounds that its failures are most apparent.
All grand campaigns pursued by the Chinese party-state flow from the declared mission of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The party's central task is to bring about the "rejuvenation of the Chinese nation," an injunction to return China to the prosperity and glory Chinese associate with the empires of their past. This is a competitive endeavor. As the leader of an unapologetically Leninist regime, Xi Jinping believes that China's return to glory requires "build[ing] a socialism that is superior to capitalism" and thereby "lay[ing] the foundation for a future where we will win the initiative and have the dominant position." These grand goals place special demands on Chinese foreign policy: "It is vital that China proactively create a favorable national security environment," Xi has explained. In other words, the grand strategy must focus on changing the norms of global institutions themselves, rather than just adapting to or violating them. As he would note on a later occasion, "the Chinese Dream can only be realized in a peaceful international environment and a stable international order."
When Xi came to power in 2012, the international security environment did not look favorable. The United States was a close military ally with many of China's neighbors and had just declared its intent to pivot its military posture to Asia. Washington was negotiating a regional free trade pact that would exclude the Chinese. Observers in Beijing feared the specter of containment. Equally disturbing was Western "discursive power"-party-speak for the hold that Western ideas and ideals had on the international stage. Party leaders identified liberal patterns of thought as a threat to their rule; they feared that an international order with thoroughly liberal operating norms would destabilize China and undermine its drive to move "closer to the center stage" of world affairs.
To thrive, the Party would need to push the international order into a "fairer and more reasonable" direction. Party leaders imagined a future where their socialist system held a place of honor, where hostile liberal hegemony had been replaced by a world governed by "a new model of international relations featuring cooperation and mutual benefit," and in which Western alliance systems would be supplanted by "a partnership network that links all parts of the world." In such a world, the party could rest easy, knowing that China's rise to the top had been safely guaranteed. The only question was how to bring that world about.
The BRI is Xi Jinping's personal attempt to enlist China's infrastructure-industrial complex into the party's quest to reshape the international order. Only a few years before Xi came to power, China had relied on this complex to power its way out of the Great Recession. Local governments partnered with SOEs to build new infrastructure on a gargantuan scale, funding projects through low-interest loans offered by China's major policy banks. But by the early 2010s, this local government-SOE-policy bank nexus was in a state of crisis. Stimulus money was gone, returns on domestic infrastructure were trending negative, overcapacity exceeded 30% in industries like iron, cement, and aluminum, and Chinese banks had some $3 trillion USD in unused foreign exchange reserves. The only way to sustain its profits was to find new, paying customers abroad. "The lesson China learned [in the recession]," notes economist Andrew Batson, "is that debt is free and that Western criticisms of excessive infrastructure investment are nonsense, so there is never any downside to borrowing to build more infrastructure. China's infrastructure-building complex, facing diminishing returns domestically, [applied] that lesson to the whole world."
The globalization of the Chinese infrastructure-industrial complex was already well underway when Xi decided to describe it as part of a 21st century Silk Road. Many of the initiative's largest and most prominent projects were announced, negotiated, or began construction years before the BRI's official launch, and were simply rebranded after the fact to curry favor with the party leadership. As we shall see, Xi's directives have had a limited influence on the decision-making process of the firms involved in Belt and Road activity since then.
Despite exercising little personal control over SOE decision making, Xi has gone to unusual lengths to associate their projects with his personal grand strategy. Xi has held two major international forums devoted specifically to Belt and Road, each bringing delegations from more than 40 countries to Beijing. Xi uses meetings with foreign heads of state to announce a new BRI Memorandum of Understanding and to publicly boost the effectiveness of the initiative's "win-win" approach.
One catalog of major speeches about the BRI finds that Xi has given more addresses on the topic than all other members of the Politburo. The BRI has been reaffirmed as a central plank of "Xi Jinping Thought on Foreign Affairs"-a set of principles and guidelines that all of China's foreign-facing officialdom is supposed to memorize, internalize, and implement-and was given a prominent place in Xi's Political Work Report to the 19th National Congress. That Congress saw Xi's signature initiative endorsed and enshrined in the constitution of the Communist Party of China.
There are two apparent rationales for Xi's decision to claim the globalization of the SOE infrastructure-industrial complex as his personal brainchild. The first is that Xi hoped that this framing might shape the contours of future outbound investment and construction, bending them towards his personal diplomatic priorities. Xi has made clear what these priorities should be: transportation and energy infrastructure in strategic locales. Guidance documents from the National Development and Reform Commission, China's premier development coordination agency, instruct project managers to prioritize six "economic corridors" with China's neighbors. As one analyst notes, the corridors "conspicuously bypass the maritime chokepoints that China has hitherto (by necessity) relied upon American naval capability and benevolence to secure." Xi emphasized that the BRI must "give priority to projects of strategic importance," and that
Infrastructure connectivity is the foundation of development through cooperation. We should promote land, maritime, air and cyberspace connectivity, concentrate our efforts on key passageways, cities and projects and connect networks of highways, railways and seaports. The goal of building six major economic corridors under the Belt and Road Initiative has been set, and we should endeavor to meet it.
Reducing complex political processes down to bland slogans ("belt and road"), numbered lists ("six major economic corridors"), and overly broad policy guidelines ("give priority to projects of strategic importance") is a strategy of control that Chinese communist leaders often turn to. They lead a party-state whose members number in the tens of millions; most individuals working for it find themselves subject to overlapping, and sometimes conflicting, lines of authority. True centralized direction of this morass is not possible. To form order from chaos, party leaders rely on propaganda and sloganeering to communicate directly to the cadre on the scene. Party leaders dispense with detailed directives that foresee every contingency in hope that cadres will grasp the principles of the party's guiding ideology and then develop their own path for implementing these principles in their unique situation. When Xi declares that "whether we succeed in our pursuit of peaceful development to a large extent depends on whether we can turn opportunities in the rest of the world into China's opportunities," he does so knowing that his statement will repeated and reprinted in state publications that diplomats, SOE managers, military officers, and party bureaucrats must read. It is their responsibility to turn broad and bland platitudes into individual plans of action.
Most party rhetoric is like this, intensely focused on its internal audience of party members and state employees. The Belt and Road rebranding, however, has a second, larger audience: all the world outside of China. Loudly calling attention to SOE projects and investment abroad allows Xi to subvert hostile narratives surrounding China's rise. Christening foreign development projects as the central plank of Xi's grand strategy was an attempt to legitimize China's return to superpower status. "Promoting BRI, boosting win-win cooperation between China and other countries, and pursuing common development," Xi informs his diplomats, means "tell[ing] the world China's success stories, [and through these means] promot[ing] mutual understanding and friendship between China and other countries."
The legitimizing mission of the Belt and Road is seen in Xi's invitation to "welcome others to join China's express train of development." This was an intentional bid for prestige: China was openly offering "a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization" on terms not set by the West. Xi made this clear in 2017 when he declared that "the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is now flying high and proud for all to see," and that the party was
Blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization. [The Chinese example] offers a new option for other countries and nations who want to speed up their development while preserving their independence; and it offers Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind.
This sort of rhetoric changed the terms of SOE engagement with outside clients. What would have been understood as business deals between individual SOEs and governments who purchased their services have been transformed into diplomatic endorsements of the "Chinese approach to solving the problems facing mankind." Each Memorandum of Understanding signed by a foreign government would legitimize the Chinese development path-and the Chinese Communists who pioneered it.
It was a fine strategy, but one with a double edge.
Transforming SOEs cash-cow projects into handmaidens of China's national rejuvenation had unanticipated consequences. Americans who might have dismissed these projects as an ad-hoc series of bilateral investment agreements now saw them as a challenge to America's global leadership. Reactions in Tokyo and New Delhi were just as hysterical, and from the Chinese perspective, just as preventable. The natural reaction of the world's dragon-slayers to BRI publicity was to hunt for BRI projects they might discredit-a task made far easier by the consequences of Xi's branding campaign.
In the words of one economist, Xi's decision to associate SOE firm strategy with his personal diplomatic brilliance "gave the SOE infrastructure-complex carte blanche to pursue whatever projects they [could] get away with." Poor investments that would have once drawn criticism, or at least extra scrutiny, by observers in China were now given a free pass, as few Chinese would risk tarring an initiative the General Secretary had invested so much of his personal prestige into. Outside China, in contrast, critics would now credit sloppiness or malfeasance not to the failings of individual SOES or financial consortiums, but to the malevolence of the Chinese government. Anything that went wrong with any project would now be laid directly at the feet of Xi Jinping.
Thus, the long string of BRI related incidents that have elevated what were essentially commercial or financial disputes into crises in the diplomatic relationship between China and various BRI host countries. BRI projects have been enmeshed in corruption scandals or political controversies in MalaysiaMyanmarSri LankaBangladeshPakistanKyrgyzstanKazakhstanCzech RepublicItalyAustralia, and the Maldives. The worst of these disputes have swept anti-China political parties into power. Their leaders condemned the Belt and Road "as a big cheat," denounced the CPC for its "new colonialism," and maligned Beijing's efforts as an attempt to ensnare their nations with "debt-trap diplomacy."
There is little evidence that Beijing ever intended any of its projects to become debt-traps, nor that they would even have the ability for this level of central strategic action. Yet haphazard project selection was an inevitable outcome of Xi's decision to make the SOEs and policy banks-domestic actors that face no incentive to take the party's long-term foreign policy priorities seriously-the foundation of his grand strategy.
The key actors in this system are the host governments of Belt and Road member countries (who generate most of the foreign-facing project proposals), municipal and provincial government officials (who generate the rest of the proposals, have responsibility for international projects where domestic connectivity plays a part, and sometimes act as middlemen), large SOEs (who provide the actual goods and services tendered), and PRC policy banks (whose loans fund the projects). Proposed projects are then passed up to the National Development and Reform Commission-notably, not the more centralized and foreign-oriented Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Ministry of Commerce-for approval and review. This mirrors the project development process of the PRC's recession spending spree. Extending the process to new shores is an excellent way to subsidize the state contractor-policy bank nexus, but a questionable foundation for a coherent foreign policy.
Xi's strategic visions and the Belt and Road realities bear but a measly semblance to each other. One analysis of 173 BRI projects concludes that, apart from the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, "there appears to be no significant relationship between corridor participation and project activity." When participation is measured through dollars invested, the skew is even greater: approximately 30% of the $148 trillion invested in BRI countries between 2014 and 2018 went to three countries: Singapore, South Korea, and Israel. None of these three are in the six strategic economic corridors; each is already considered a developed economy.
Projects can work at strategic cross-purposes: in 2013 officials in Guangxi and their SOE allies financed a multi-billion dollar investment in a port, cross-country railway, and industrial park in Malaysia's Pahang state; two years later, officials in Guangdong province signed a rival agreement with Malacca to fund its own multi-billion dollar industrial park and port. "There is little economic rationale for developing two world-class ports on the Malay Peninsula," note political scientists Zeng Jinhan and Lee Jones, "These projects reflect not a coherent master plan but rather competitive, sub-national dynamics in both countries. Moreover, these micro-level dynamics clearly do not-indeed, cannot-add up to a coherent, macro-level network of infrastructure."
The distribution of dollars invested and projects constructed puts to question whether Chinese SOEs are behaving any differently than they would have without the BRI framework. At least one researcher who interviewed dozens of decision-makers in Chinese SOEs reports that considerations of profit, not politics, is driving project selection. Little surprise, then, that as the number of countries nominally involved with the BRI has grown over the last three years, actual money spent on foreign projects has not risen. Having used their excess foreign reserves in the first half of the 2010s, funding from policy banks to start new projects peaked in 2017 and has fallen drastically since. Bankers and businessmen are simply not willing to go into the red to fulfill Xi Jinping's intentionally vague directives.
Xi did not create the infrastructure-industrial complex's decentralized project selection and development process. He inherited it. Branding this inheritance a central plank of Chinese foreign relations was his mistake. The actors were too various, and their relationships too complex, for a simple system of centralized control. This left Xi with little choice but to rely on the propaganda and ideology apparatus to try giving the Belt and Road strategic direction. These tactics for guiding cadre behavior are powerful in the absence of other incentives-but when there were billions of dollars to be made, the siren call of those other incentives sounded far louder than the exhortations of Xi Jinping Thought. The irony is that foreigners did pay attention to Xi's exhortations. Xi then found himself paying costs for a strategy he could proclaim but could not implement.
The future of the BRI branding project is uncertain. The initiative is entangled with Xi's personal prestige. It is hard to imagine Xi's signature initiative falling away unless Xi himself falls first. More likely then, is that both international attention and party focus on the initiative will slowly taper off as the true motive force behind its projects, SOEs looking for easy money will determine that foreign money is no longer so easily made.
This may already be happening. The coronavirus crisis has crashed foreign demand, excess foreign reserves have already dwindled, and under the aegis of "dual circulation" the government is set to offer financial incentives to firms that reorient towards Chinese domestic consumption or move up the manufacturing value chain. The pageantry of the Belt and Road will live on. But if foreigners still quake at Chinese economic power at the end of this decade, it will not be because of Chinese road-building abroad, but instead the bounding strength of Chinese industry at home.
Tanner Greer is a journalist and researcher. His writing focuses on contemporary security issues in the Asia-Pacific and the military history of East and Southeast Asia.


11. More than 77 percent willing to fight in the event of an invasion by China: poll
Also very important for messaging and deterrence.

Sun, Oct 25, 2020 page2

  • More than 77 percent willing to fight in the event of an invasion by China: poll

    • By Wu Su-wei / Staff reporter
    More than 77 percent of Taiwanese say they are willing to fight for the nation in the event of an invasion by China, a survey released yesterday showed.
    The Taiwan Center for International Strategic Studies and the Taiwan International Studies Association at a news conference in Taipei publicized the results of the poll conducted on Wednesday and Thursday.
    Asked about their willingness to defend national security, 66 percent of respondents said that they would fight for Taiwan if a cross-strait war breaks out in the wake of Taiwan declaring independence, while 26.1 percent said they would not, the survey showed.
    When facing an invasion by China, the ratio of people willing to fight for the nation rose to 77.6 percent, and that of opponents fell to 15.9 percent, it showed.
    Asked if they would work with the US to combat China, given that Washington has increased arms sale to Taiwan, 58.7 percent said "yes," while 24.6 percent said "no," the poll showed.
    In the event that a war breaks out across the Taiwan Strait, 55.1 percent of respondents said they expected the US to send armed forces to assist Taiwan, while 32.8 percent said the US would not, it showed.
    The survey, conducted by Focus Survey Research, targeted respondents aged 20 or older, including those on the nation's outlying islands.
    It collected 1,076 valid samples, including 536 through landline telephones and 540 through mobile phones, with a margin of error of 2.99 percentage points.

12. US, Indonesia agree to enhance military, maritime security ties
americanmilitarynews.com · by Asia News Network · October 26, 2020
The United States and Indonesia have agreed to tighten defense and maritime security cooperation between the two countries after a meeting between US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto in Washington, DC, on Friday. Esper and Prabowo discussed regional security, bilateral defense priorities and defense acquisitions, the US Department of Defense said in a statement issued on Oct. 16. "Both leaders shared their desire to enhance bilateral military-to-military activities and work together on maritime security," the statement said.
"Esper communicated the importance of upholding human rights, the rule of law and professionalization as the two countries expand their engagement while Prabowo expressed the importance of military engagement at all levels."
The US is believed to have put Prabowo on a blacklist due to alleged human rights violations in East Timor and during the last days of the rule of then-president Soeharto in 1997-1998. Human rights abuses have also led to the suspension of formal cooperation with the Indonesian Military (TNI) and especially the Army's Special Forces Command (Kopassus). The ban on Kopassus was lifted in 2010.
There has yet to be an official announcement on any arms deal with the Pentagon, although Indonesia has expressed an interest in several US-made weapons systems, such as CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor hybrid aircraft or the F-16 Fighting Falcon light jet fighters.
There is also interest among Indonesian defense establishments in F-15 Eagle heavy jet fighters and even the stealthy F-35 Lightning II jet fighter.
The only clear collaboration to come out of Friday's meeting was when Esper and Prabowo signed a memorandum of intent (MOI) to advance the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency's efforts to restart work in Indonesia to recover the remains of US personnel lost in Indonesia during World War II, according to the statement.
"Both leaders expressed sympathies to those affected by COVID-19 in the United States and Indonesia," it added.
There has been no official announcement from the Indonesian Defense Ministry as of Sunday morning, nor has there been an official announcement on Prabowo's next destinations. Prabowo will head to Vienna where he is scheduled to meet his Austrian counterpart Klaudia Tanner on Tuesday as shown by a leaked document.
While in Vienna, Prabowo is believed to have a discussion with Tanner on the possible sales of the European country's Eurofighter Typhoon heavy jet fighters. The next stop will be Paris to meet French counterpart Florence Parly on Thursday as announced by the French Defense Ministry's Twitter account @Armees_Gouv on Friday.
The Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and Indonesian representatives in France have been reluctant to confirm the visit. Based on a 2017 letter of intent (LOI) on defense, the bilateral defense cooperation includes three areas of cooperation on operational, training and capability, the French Defense Ministry said in the tweet.
Prabowo visited France in January, where he reportedly expressed interest in Gowind frigates, Rafale heavy jet fighters and Scorpene submarines, as reported by French newspaper La Tribune. Other countries Prabowo could also visit include Turkey, although an official at the Indonesian Embassy in Ankara said there had been no confirmation at the time of publishing.
(c) 2020 the Asia News Network
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

13. Social media is the greatest threat to US service members

Interesting perspective and analysis.

Social media is the greatest threat to US service members

taskandpurpose.com · by Jeff Schogol
Forget Russia or China: The biggest threat to the U.S. military today comes from social media, which provides limitless opportunities for service members to abruptly end their careers by doing something stupid.
While this phenomenon is not specific to one particular military branch, the Army seems to be the Typhoid Mary of America's ongoing social media stupidity pandemic.
In the past week, Fort Bragg's official Twitter account posted obscene material. A spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps initially said the Twitter account had been hacked. (Narrator's voice: It wasn't.)
TikTok in particular appears to be the Army's Kryptonite. Two soldiers with the Michigan Army National Guard were recently disciplined for making a video in which they called liberals and Democrats "crybabies" and "snowflakes." (As it turns out, their battalion commander is also under investigation for allegedly espousing conspiracy theories on his private Facebook page.)
In two separate recent incidents: A paratrooper took a video selfie of himself drinking cranberry juice and vibing to Fleetwood Mac during an actual jump and an Army lieutenant joked about the Holocaust, prompting investigations of both soldiers.
Stories about troops making a TikTok video of themselves doing something incredibly stupid are becoming so pervasive and happening so often that we could easily dedicate a team of reporters to cover them. (My poor colleague Haley Britzky has already developed quite the repertoire on this subject.)
Why does all of this matter? It has become apparent that a significant number of service members feel that too few nonjudicial punishments are being meted out so they are volunteering to get busted down a rank or two or get administratively separated.
I'm rapidly becoming too old for this job. When I started as a cub reporter nearly 20 years ago, there was no social media. I know I sound like Tommy Lee Jones in No Country for Old Men, but back then it took time and effort to make a video that would end your career: You needed a video camera, lights, nude models, etc. Even then, you would end up with a tape that people had to physically put into a VCR.
All of this sounds quaint in an age when one can instantly reach a wide audience on Twitter, an outlet that allows violent and unhinged people to threaten whomever they want. Take Marine Pfc. Jarrett Morford, who posted a video this month on Twitter in which he blamed China for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and he vowed to shoot anyone of Chinese origin when he got to the fleet.
It is extremely unlikely that this problem will go away anytime soon. That's why I am proposing a Sherman-esque solution: Ban all service members from posting anything on social media.
  • No TikTok
  • No Facebook
  • No Twitter
  • No Snapchat
  • No Instagram
If that sounds harsh, remember that when Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman ran into an obstacle, he would just burn it down. Say what you will, but he didn't have to leave troops behind to garrison Atlanta.
I realize that it will make me extremely unpopular to suggest that troops should not be allowed to post on social media - and I don't care. Each service member's mobile phone is a weapon of mass destruction in the social media age. If you think I enjoy writing about yet another controversial TikTok video, think again.
Social media is an ideal forum for sociopaths. There is no need for members of the military - especially junior enlisted service members - to add to the manure pile every day with moronic or racist posts and videos.
The Pentagon is obsessed with how it would win a war against China. But the People's Liberation Army does not have the power to boot you from the service. Social media does.
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Jeff Schogol covers the Pentagon for Task & Purpose. He has covered the military for 15 years and embedded with U.S. troops in Iraq and Haiti. Prior to joining T&P, he covered the Marine Corps and Air Force at Military Times. Comments or thoughts to share? Send them to Jeff Schogol via email at schogol@taskandpurpose.com or direct message @JeffSchogol on Twitter.

14. XVIII Airborne crowdsources innovation in new competition
This Lieutenant could be a hero if he improves the range scheduling and land use process to make it more efficient and effective for users!!

Excerpt: "One of the finalists, battalion land and ammo manager 1st Lt. Nathan Wagner, has plans to change the policies and procedures for requesting and cancelling land use. Using reports generated from the Army's current Range Facility Management Support System, Wagner found that units are exponentially more likely to cancel their training area reservations as training dates approach."

XVIII Airborne crowdsources innovation in new competition

armytimes.com · by Harm Venhuizen · October 24, 2020
In its own version of the ABC-TV show "Shark Tank, the XVIII Airborne Corps is using innovators among its ranks to solve the Army's inefficiencies.
This Tuesday, five finalists from across "America's Contingency Corps" will step into the "Dragon's Lair" to present their ideas on how to book and use training ranges more efficiently. A panel meeting at XVIII Airborne Corps headquarters on Fort Bragg in North Carolina will choose the best idea and work to implement it across the force.
Next Tuesday, 5 Sky Soldiers will enter the Dragon's Lair and present their innovations. 1 will leave with the prize. We'll implement the winning idea across the Corps and submit to the Army.

All our units are represented.

This is a competition of ideas. Who will rise? pic.twitter.com/hzBqUxSjJA
- XVIII Airborne Corps (@18airbornecorps) October 23, 2020
Presenters will give a three-minute pitch on their idea and then take questions for half an hour. Some of the ideas being presented include an app to schedule training areas and a new marksmanship course to improve lethality.
In addition to working on the development and implementation of their idea, the winner will receive a four-day pass, a Meritorious Service Medal, a school of their choice, and the opportunity to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ next month.
Tuesday's five finalists were chosen by vote as part of the XVIII Airborne Corps' new Dragon Innovation Program. In a Facebook comment, the corps expressed a desire to continue such events, saying: "The Dragon Innovation Program intends to be a recurring initiative. And while the 'Innovation Challenge' aspect of the program will change with each iteration, all manner of ideas will be accepted for forum discussion. A good idea is a still a good idea."
Our next Innovator, @82ndABNDiv's Daniel Murphy wants control measures in RFMMS: 1. hold units accountable for cancellations; 2. prevent "land grabs" by greedy units; 3. facilitate unit coordination.

He has many ideas. It's going to be tough to express them in a 3-minute pitch pic.twitter.com/4dogPQc2aG
- XVIII Airborne Corps (@18airbornecorps) October 24, 2020
The initiative even gained support from "Shark Tank" stars like Barbara Corcoran and guest "shark" Jeff Foxworthy, who said, "I cannot wait to hear of some of the great new innovations you come up with. You know, I have been performing for American soldiers for three decades, and from my experience American soldiers are some of the smartest, coolest, and funniest people I have ever met."

One of the finalists, battalion land and ammo manager 1st Lt. Nathan Wagner, has plans to change the policies and procedures for requesting and cancelling land use. Using reports generated from the Army's current Range Facility Management Support System, Wagner found that units are exponentially more likely to cancel their training area reservations as training dates approach.

"My idea is important because it takes aim at a real problem that the XVIII Airborne Corps as well as the Army as a whole, faces," he said. "Successful implementation of these ideas would ensure fiscal stewardship."
So, what is this Dragon's Lair program we're promoting? It's the culminating event of the 1st iteration of the Dragon Innovation Challenge.

This first challenge addressed a specific problem, one every Army leader has faced: inefficiencies with training areas. pic.twitter.com/5BdgyM8okM
- XVIII Airborne Corps (@18airbornecorps) October 24, 2020

15. He Was Convicted of War Crimes and Pardoned by Trump. Now He Wants to Reform Military Justice
Sigh... I guess he is depending on his "life experience" for expertise.

He Was Convicted of War Crimes and Pardoned by Trump. Now He Wants to Reform Military Justice

military.com · by Richard Sisk · October 25, 2020
Former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance has a new mission: To become a lawyer and press for reform of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, under which he was convicted of war crimes in Afghanistan.
Lorance said he is driven by the "leave no man behind" credo he learned in boot camp in seeking to help others caught up in the military justice system, which he claims wrongly sent him to prison on charges of ordering his platoon to open fire on three unarmed Afghans, killing two.
"If I had gone over there and made the decision that I was going to fight the war on my own terms and just do whatever I want, I should still be there -- in jail -- if that's what I did," Lorance said in a lengthy interview with Military.com.
"But that's not what I did. Every single thing I did was for the good of this country and to try and do my job to the best of my ability," he said. "I was just so in over my head once they brought charges and everything."
Nine members of his platoon testified in a general court-martial that Lorance was an arrogant and inexperienced leader who panicked and recklessly gave the order to shoot Afghans who posed no immediate threat.
"I didn't really have a chance to defend myself" against charges that he knowingly violated the rules of engagement, meant to prevent civilian casualties; lied about his actions; and was guilty of premeditated murder, Lorance maintains.
"One of the things that frustrates me more than anything, and it continues to frustrate me to this day, is that people think I changed the rules [of engagement] arbitrarily, or that I changed the rules -- period," he said. "And, you know, that could not be further from the truth."
The legal and ethical challenges he will have to overcome to realize his dream of becoming a lawyer are formidable, despite a pardon from President Donald Trump last November that let him out of the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, after serving six years of a 19-year sentence.
Lorance is now taking classes at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia -- although he said the dean has told him he has little chance of ever being admitted to the bar with a conviction on his record.
He also is promoting his just-released book, "Stolen Honor: Falsely Accused, Imprisoned, and My Long Road to Freedom."
The book's blurb calls it the "captivating account of how Clint Lorance, a soldier who became a scapegoat for a corrupt military hierarchy, was falsely charged with war crimes, imprisoned, and eventually pardoned by President Trump."
The book echoes Trump's defense of his pardons of Lorance and others in the military as a counter to "deep state" bureaucrats throughout the government who follow their own agendas rather than the law.
But Lorance said he takes a more nuanced view.
"I never really thought about it before the president started mentioning it," he said of the deep state theory. "And then, honestly, I started thinking back on all the Defense Department and military [officials] in their positions for 30 years, some of them.
"Do I think there are a lot of evil people plotting to overthrow the government -- no. Do I think it's a shadow government -- no," he said. "Some of them, some of them, overstep their bounds in terms of the future and the shaping of the force and of the country. ... But I think the bureaucratic deep state definitely exists."
Through his legal team, Lorance is appealing in federal court to have his conviction reversed and regain his rights to veteran benefits and the GI Bill, which were terminated by his dismissal from the military, the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge for an officer.
'Unlawful' Command Influence
Lorance said one of his motivations to become a lawyer advocating for military justice reform is his opinion that he was railroaded by commanders on career paths.
"Senior brass in the military have a tendency to please the more senior brass, and it's because they want to get promoted," he said. "It's the way things are; it's human nature. So did I fall into that category of undue command influence, unlawful command influence? I believe so."
He said it was easy for his commanders "to turn and say, 'Hey, look, here's one of our own. We're holding our own people accountable'" to curry favor.
Should he be accepted to practice law, Lorance said he will advocate to have commanders removed from the process of bringing and approving charges.
"At [the] end of the day, it's the commander who makes the decision to charge somebody. I think that's inappropriate. It's dangerous to use the criminal justice system in a political way," Lorance said, adding that he favors creation of what he calls "military district attorneys" to oversee how the UCMJ is applied.
Under such a system, "maybe more people will go to jail in the military because less stuff is swept under the rug -- less stuff like sexual assault, for instance," he said. His recommendations can be seen on his website at clintlorance.com.
'I Am Not a Victim'
Lorance's case presents profound questions on the laws of war, the rules of engagement, undue or unlawful command influence, and a president's pardon powers.
He joined the Army at the age of 18 at the recruiting station in Greenville, Texas, on Dec. 13, 2002. He served in the enlisted ranks on traffic patrol in South Korea for two years and then in Iraq for 15 months as a prison guard.
Lorance returned to Texas in 2007, earned a degree at the University of North Texas in an ROTC program, and was commissioned as an officer. He was the first in his family to receive a college degree.
In March 2012, he was sent to Forward Operating Base Pasab in Kandahar, Afghanistan, birthplace of the Taliban, and reported to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division.
On June 30 of that year, Lorance was assigned to take over the brigade's 1st Platoon, C Troop, to replace another lieutenant who had been wounded.
On July 2, he took a patrol out from Strong Point Payenzai -- 17 U.S. troops with seven members of the Afghan National Army in the lead. Other members of the platoon manned gun trucks at the strong point to provide overwatch for the patrol.
Shortly into the foot patrol, Pfc. James Skelton called out to Lorance that three Afghans were approaching on a motorcycle. Lorance, who could not see the men or the motorcycle, gave Skelton the order to shoot, according to the court-martial record.
Skelton fired two rounds that missed. He would later testify that the Afghans were unarmed and had begun to walk away from the motorcycle toward the Afghan soldiers in the patrol.
Lorance, still unable to see the Afghans, then ordered Pvt. David Shilo, who was in one of the gun trucks overseeing the patrol, to shoot, according to the records. Shilo fired a burst, killing two of the Afghans as the third ran away.
Lorance claimed later that the Afghan soldiers in his patrol also fired. He told Military.com that, although he could not see the Afghans on the motorcycle, radio chatter and two helicopters overhead provided him with a better assessment of the alleged threat.
When told that members of the platoon testified to the contrary, Lorance said, "It's important to look at whose job was what during that patrol. A lot of the guys that testified against me -- they were not monitoring radios.
"We did not have enough radios. These guys, their perspective is very different from the perspective I had," he said, adding that "one of the platoon members from the Afghan Army fired first."
"Where I was physically on the ground that day, we were all so physically separated by obstacles. I could not see the motorcycle from where I was," he said. "So the only thing I had to shape my view on things was what people were telling me on the radio, what the helicopter was telling me and what the guys were telling me on the ground.
"The crazy thing is, the ironic thing is, I could've just not taken responsibility for the engagement and just kept quiet. The Afghans were technically in the lead," he added. "The reason why I did not is because I was worried about civilian casualties, and I was worried about collateral damage."
A gavel lays on the Uniform Code of Military Justice inside the 28th Bomb Wing courtroom at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., July 17, 2018. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Nicolas Z. Erwin)
On July 30, 2013, the general court-martial for Lorance convened at the Fort Bragg Courtroom Facility in Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Capt. Kirk Otto, the prosecutor, told the court in his opening statement that Lorance had gathered members of the platoon over the bodies of the dead Afghans and said, "I know how to report so no one asks questions."
Defense lawyer Guy Womack told the court, "This is not a murder case. This is a combat case."
The trial hinged on the rules of engagement, an often subjective standard that troops could open fire only when they were the targets of a hostile act or perceived hostile intent, although they always retained the right of self-defense when threatened with harm.
The turning point appeared to come when Skelton, who had fired the first shots that missed, took the stand.
In his questioning, Otto said to Skelton: "There was not a reason to shoot at that moment in time that presented a clear, definitive hostile intent and hostile act. Did you feel directly threatened by the motorcycle?"
Skelton: "No."
Otto: "When you fired at that motorcycle, were you firing because Lorance told you to or because of an imminent threat to friendly forces?"
Skelton: "Because I was told to engage it."
Otto: "If you had not been told, would you have fired on that motorcycle?"
Skelton: "No."
On Aug. 1, 2013, the jury members began deliberations and came back with a verdict in a little over two hours.
They found Lorance guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder and other charges. But Lorance notes that he was acquitted on the charge of changing the rules of engagement.
During sentencing, Lorance, who had not taken the stand in his own defense, spoke his only words in open court: "Sir, ma'am, gentlemen, I take full responsibility for the actions of my men on 2 July 2012. Thank you."
He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. On review, Maj. Gen. Richard Clarke, then-commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, approved the verdict but reduced the sentence to 19 years.
Despite the verdict, Lorance said, "I don't ever let anybody call me a victim. I don't like to be looked at as a victim."
His Conviction Isn't Cleared -- Yet
The United American Patriots, a nonprofit that assists service members it believes were unjustly charged, began supporting Lorance and helped fund a legal team led by John Maher, a former legal aide to retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal.
Maher produced documents purporting to show that the two Afghans killed in Kandahar were suspected bomb makers and charged that the evidence was withheld from the defense during the court-martial.
The Army's Court of Criminal Appeals turned down a plea for a new trial, ruling that the evidence would not have been admissible at trial and, even if it had been, Lorance could not have known of the Afghans' background at the time he ordered the shootings.
The legal team began preparing to take the case to federal court as Fox News host Sean Hannity and "Fox & Friends" personalities aired dozens of segments defending Lorance.
Petitions pleading for a pardon with more than 124,000 signatures were sent to then-President Barack Obama.
On Nov. 8, 2019, Judge John Lungstrum, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, rejected an initial plea for a new trial from Lorance's defense team.
In his ruling, Lungstrum, a nominee of President George H.W. Bush and a former Army lieutenant, said that the Standing Rules of Engagement at the time "permitted soldiers to use force in defense of themselves or others upon the commission of a hostile act or the demonstration of imminent hostile intent."
However, "there were no declared hostile forces, and thus no authority to engage any person upon sight" when Lorance issued the orders, Lundstrum wrote.
He also said that the defense team had failed to explore all its options in the military justice system. Lorance remained at Leavenworth.
A week later, on Nov. 15, Trump issued a "full and unconditional" pardon to Lorance, who was allowed to leave the prison in his Army uniform after serving six years.
At the same time, Trump also pardoned Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was charged with killing a suspected bomb maker in Afghanistan, and reversed the demotion of Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who had been acquitted of killing a prisoner in Iraq.
At a Nov. 26, 2019, campaign rally in Florida, Trump said, "Just this week, I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state. ... I will always stick up for our great fighters. People have to be able to fight," an apparent reference to restrictive rules of engagement.
Lorance's lawyers went back into Lungstrum's court, citing the pardon in an effort to have his conviction expunged. But the judge said the pardon itself is now the main roadblock.
In his Jan. 24, 2020, ruling, Lungstrum wrote that Lorance's "acceptance of the pardon was an admission of his guilt, leaving this matter without a case or controversy."
"His knowing and voluntary acceptance of the full and unconditional Presidential Pardon waives his right to collaterally attack his conviction through his habeas petition, thus rendering this matter moot and subject to dismissal," he wrote.
Lorance said his case is now before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, but had no estimate on when he might get a ruling.
He added that his lawyers are "trying to get the Pentagon and the Justice Department, specifically the pardon attorney's office [at Justice], to enforce the president's orders in terms of what he intended to happen when he pardoned me."
Military law experts are split on the pardon's effects and whether Lorance might get his conviction overturned and his rights as a veteran restored.
Eugene Fidell, a lecturer at Yale Law School who was on the defense team in the high-profile Bowe Bergdahl desertion case, said that Lungstrum appears to be "really reaching" with the precedents he cited to back up his ruling that accepting the pardon amounts to an admission of guilt.
Lungstrum "doesn't make a persuasive case that this case is moot," Fidell said. "Accepting a pardon is different than pleading guilty."
Rachel VanLandingham, a former military Judge Advocate and Air Force officer who now teaches at Southwestern Law School, said there are differences among academics on the effects of pardons but agreed with Lungstrum's ruling.
"I found Lungstrum's opinion quite sound," she said in an email statement. "Not all pardons are the same, and some indeed do not indicate acceptance of guilt. But the court rightly points out that most do -- the ones it calls 'ordinary' -- and Lorance's falls within that category."
Gary Solis, a Marine combat officer in Vietnam and former military judge advocate, agreed with VanLandingham on Lungstrum's ruling.
"The District Court opinion doesn't merely close the door on any chance of Lorance now contesting his guilt, it nails that door shut. None of the cases cited in the court's opinion threatens that judgment," Solis said.
However, Fidell said that there is a chance Lorance might be admitted to the bar despite the conviction, if he finishes law school.
"It has been done, and it has happened [for persons convicted of felonies]," Fidell said.
Solis was not so sure. "I'd bet the ranch against his chances" of becoming a lawyer, he said.
A Political Lightning Rod
Lorance said he is well aware that he will remain a political lightning rod, no matter the outcome of his appeals, and expressed concerns about how he will be viewed as an openly gay Christian.
When asked whether his faith has been shaken by the court-martial and its aftermath, Lorance said, "Yes and no. Before I came out, I was scared [that] Republicans and conservatives, all the people that I'm always around, would hate me for it.
"But the weird and crazy thing is that I've gotten more hate from the left than I have from the right," although some Trump supporters will occasionally approach him to ask whether he has considered conversion therapy, he said.
"I just politely say, 'No, thank you, I am exactly who God made me to be, but I appreciate your offer," he added.
Others will "come up to me and tell me, 'I don't understand it,'" meaning his being openly gay.
He said they tell him, "It's weird to me, but you're alright in my book."
Lorance said he was a bit apprehensive when he first met the president after his release, but Trump put him at ease.
"[He said] they already had told him, he knew that I was gay, he knew that," Lorance said.
When they were taking photos, "I put my arm on him -- like on his shoulder -- and he didn't even flinch," he said.
"That was to me -- here's a Republican president who people think is homophobic or whatever, and here's a gay guy putting his arm around him and he doesn't even care. He just smiled for the picture," Lorance said. "That makes a huge difference to me."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

16.  Operating at home: How to make SOF troops' transition to civilian life easier

militarytimes.com · by Harm Venhuizen · October 23, 2020
Not much scares special operators. Whether kicking in doors to secure a high-value target, teaching indigenous forces or working to establish complex communications systems in a pinch, the men and women of special operations forces are trained to be undaunted by some of the most high-stakes missions in the military, because in a fight-or-flight situation, fear can mean death.
It may be surprising, then, to learn that making the transition back to civilian life can be one of the scariest things some SOF personnel ever do.
"It's very tribal and team-oriented," said Matt Stevens, a former SEAL and CEO of The Honor Foundation. "A lot of times people are really tied into what they did. It becomes everything about them. And stepping away from that to kind of figure out where you're going to fit in, what your purpose on the planet is because all of the sudden you have choices, is daunting."
Perhaps just as daunting what to do is choosing who will help along the way. The wide variety of organizations like THF that offer SOF veterans assistance in the transition process can seem overwhelming.
As SOF For Life works to restructure the way it helps transitioning operators and enablers, former members of SOF can help by filling out the 2020 SOF For Life Survey. (Photo Courtesy SOF For Life)
SOF For Life plans to change that. The Florida-based non-profit program sees itself becoming a central hub for connecting transitioning members of SOF to programs and employed tailored to each service member's unique situation. As part of the Global SOF Foundation, an international network of SOF personnel, SOF For Life is well poised to provide such assistance.
"All these organizations that provide assistance to SOF specifically as they transition, we want to have kind of a one-stop shop for that," said Meghan Keeler-Pettigrew, chief operating officer of GSOF.
Initially inspired by founder and retired Army Special Forces Col. Stu Bradin's work in establishing the NATO Special Operations Coordination Center and leading SOCOM's Expanding Global SOF Network Operational Planning Team, GSOF has seen rapid growth since its founding in 2014, currently connecting more than 60 nations and 2,400 members, advocating for SOF in policymaking arenas, and using SOF For Life to provide transition assistance.

A U.S. Army Special Operation Soldier with 3rd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) fires a MK44 minigun during Integrated Training Exercise 3-19 at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. William Chockey)
But to become the central connector for SOF transitions that it hopes to be, SOF For Life needs the help of its community. By filling out the 2020 SOF For Life Survey, former members of the special operations community can bring awareness to the issues affecting their separation and retirement from the military and shape the future of SOF For Life's outreach.
"We want to see what that data says and what people are struggling with," Keeler-Pettigrew said of the current survey. "The steering group wants to look at that and then reorient our programs accordingly."
What we realized as we started talking to people more is that these operators and SOF support personnel needed more than just resume help and job postings.
Currently, SOF For Life offers a comprehensive guide to transitioning, connects transitioning personnel with relevant resources and manages a resume and hiring database. As the program expands its offerings, Keeler-Pettigrew hopes to see the creation of an online aggregator for transition assistance organizations, further evaluation of SOF requirements through additional surveying, and upgraded job and resume postings to better connect service members to relevant opportunities.
Lingering issues
Previous surveys showed that two of the biggest issues members of SOF face as they transition are financial planning and discovering both their passions and related careers. SOF For Life's current partnerships reflect these findings.
The group works with The American Armed Forces Mutual Aid Association, one of the oldest military non-profits in the nation, to give SOF troops free financial planning assistance as they prepare to transition. Keeler-Pettigrew recommended that troops begin such planning at least two years prior to transitioning out of the military, saying that a year or less is already too late.
U.S. special operations service members conduct combat operations in support of Operation Resolute Support in Southeast Afghanistan, April 2019. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jaerett Engeseth)
To address transitioning SOF personnel's need for purpose and passion in their careers, SOF For Life partners with The Honor Foundation.
Transitioning operators and support personnel need more than just resume help and job postings, said Keeler-Pettigrew.
"When we were introduced to [The Honor Foundation], we thought, 'this is what people need and we don't need to recreate something this great organization is already doing,'" she said.
Finding purpose is central to the mission of THF's 12-week program. As SOF personnel leave behind the team and purpose they've been a part of for years, they are guided to find a new and personal motivation to succeed.
"The most difficult but also the most rewarding [part of the program] is our phase one, which we call 'You'," said Stevens. "It's all about you, the human, as a person and figuring out those things like what your purpose, what your 'why,' and what your passions are."
A Green Beret demonstrates how to immediately fix a firing malfunction on an assault rifle to partner force soldiers of the Maghaweir al-Thowra (MaT) at al-Tanf Garrison, Syria, March 3, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. William Howard)
For SOF veterans, the process can be difficult, but sharing the experience with a group of like-minded veterans eases the load, Stevens said. In addition to these relationships built in their THF cohorts, Stevens said GSOF has been great at establishing community for SOF veterans and giving them options as they transition.
Help from mentors
After discovering their why, THF helps SOF personnel get connected to a group of mentors in their field of interest, whether it's schooling, a tech career, startups, or defense contracting. Their mission, "To serve others with Honor, for life. So that their next mission is always clear and continues to impact the world," is exemplified in the focus they place on discovering what THF fellows want for themselves and stopping at nothing to achieve it.
I think we have some societal thought that every special operations person has PTSD and totes a gun.
The organization currently boasts 95 percent fulfillment, which Stevens defines as veterans starting their own business, finding gainful employment in the field they desire, or taking a self-driven sabbatical.
Stevens went through the program himself in 2016, when he left the SEAL Teams after 26 years of service. Because of the intense deployment and training schedule of the SEALs, he said it'd been a while since he had time to think about family or his purpose outside of the job. He described his mindset as "auditing" the course, attending the program just to see if it was worth recommending to his men.
What he got was more than he bargained for.
"It was a game-changer," he said. "It really forced me to do a lot of thinking about my why, my purpose." Three years later, after a brief stint in the tech sector and time on THF's board, Stevens became CEO of the program he'd entered just to audit.
More than just direct action
THF's services, and those of many other SOF-focused organizations, aren't limited to former door-kickers. "You don't have to be an operator, as long as you're serving under the SOF umbrella, to come to our program," Stevens said.
Special Operations Capabilities Specialists assigned to 3rd Marine Raider Support Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, conduct frontal assault training on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune. (Sgt. Jonathon Wiederhold/Marine Corps)
"I think we have some societal thought that every special operations person has PTSD and totes a gun and is very into aggressive activities or high energy, high adrenaline things," said Patty Collins, a former signal corps colonel who spent years of her career in support of special operations. "There is sometimes not a great appreciation that as physical as that group of people are, they're also incredibly cerebral."
During her time in special operations forces, Collins had the opportunity to attend specialized training like Military Free Fall School that wasn't available to her specialty anywhere in the conventional Army. Collins also said SOF helped her to develop a more determined mindset, though as a competitive triathlete, she was certainly never lacking in motivation or determination.
Just because you take a job post-military doesn't mean you're committed for 20 years.
The special operations environment made Collins acutely aware of how vital her success was to the success of the mission, even as a service provider. She recalled never being treated as anything less than an equal and important member of the team.
Her determined and inclusive mindset is something Collins has taken with her in the positions she's held since leaving the military. But even with the right tools for the job, she struggled at first to find work she loved. Collins, who describes her transition as an example of "a lot of what not to do," had never heard of SOF For Life or GSOF when she retired.
In this 2012 photo made available by the U.S. Navy, a squad of Navy SEALs participate in special operations urban combat training at an undisclosed location. (Petty Officer 2nd Class Meranda Keller/U.S. Navy via AP)
"I didn't really put forth a lot of time and energy into saying 'what kind of work do you want to do after the military?'," said Collins.
Beyond going to the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio with the U.S. triathlon team, Collins didn't have many plans. She recalled enjoying and learning from her first two jobs after the military, even succeeding at adapting her communication skills to the civilian world, but deep-down Collins knew those weren't the careers for her.
"Most of us are not going to get it right straight out of the gate," she said. "Just because you take a job post-military doesn't mean you're committed for 20 years."
About three and a half years after retiring from the Army, Collins found herself back in public service in a job she calls a good fit.
"It's the part of leadership development I really enjoy. It's the part of strategic planning I enjoy. It just took me a while to get there," she said of her position as deputy director of the U.S. Government Publishing Office.
SOF For Life hopes to reach operators and enablers early on in their careers to make them aware of their options after the military. (Army)
Casting a wide net
As they look to the future and find new ways to reach transitioning SOF members like Collins while they're still serving, SOF For Life has consulted the expertise of organizations that have been working in the field for years. Tony Mayne, a former Ranger and director of Gallant Few's Darby Project, sits on SOF For Life's steering group, which currently meets monthly to reshape what SOF For Life has to offer. He emphasized the importance of ensuring service members are aware of the resources currently offered by the military.
"In the Ranger Regiment, my perception was that there were a lot of folks who wanted to provide assistance, but they were just so busy that they never had the ability to take advantage of some of those opportunities," said Mayne.
A U.S. Army Ranger assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment briefs climbers prior to appraching the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc, in Cricqueville en Bessin, France June 4, 2019. Rangers scaled the cliff to honor the 135 men killed or wounded from the 2d and 5th Ranger Battalions while capturing and holding Pointe du Hoc. (Master Sgt. Andy M. Kim/Air Force)
The Darby Project, which only works with members of the Army's 75th Ranger Regiment, recommends as part of their support that transitioning Rangers take full advantage of the DoD's SkillBridge program. DoD SkillBridge gives service members the opportunity to complete specific training, apprenticeships, and internships during their final 180 days of service. It's the same program Mayne used to start his work with Gallant Few.
Each branch of service also offers their own version of a transition assistance program designed to help service members plan their separation or retirement. But the quality of such programs varies by installation, and even the best transition assistance programs aren't very individually tailorable, according to Mayne.
"I don't think it's fair to expect the Department of Defense to have a leader with every single member of the service that transitions," Mayne said of the importance of one-on-one interaction in the transition process. "But where non-profits can really pay value is when they are able to fill that gap."
If you're a former member of SOF and would like to contribute to the way SOF For Life assists transitioning veterans, please consider filling out the 2020 SOF For Life Survey.

17. Erik Prince's Private Wars
I will be interested in reading commentary and analysis from Sean McFate on this.  Oh wait.  He is quoted in this article.  No need to wait.

Erik Prince's Private Wars

Rolling Stone · by Seth Hettena · October 25, 2020
Photo illustration based on photograph by Melissa Golden/Redux

Erik Prince's Private Wars

The Blackwater founder wants to bring back his company's glory days - and he's campaigning for Donald Trump's help to do it. But he's haunted by past failures and is facing questions about a mercenary fiasco in Libya

In the spring of 2019, Khalifa Haftar went to a cafe in Cairo to plot a coup. At the meeting, the Libyan general was shown an $80 million plan to overthrow Libya's U.N.-recognized government. In a PowerPoint presentation viewed by Rolling Stone, Haftar, a warlord with a power base in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, saw plans for an operation that would use two Cobra H1 attack helicopters, mounted with 20mm rotary machine guns and crewed by foreign mercenaries, to swoop down and kill or capture 11 of Haftar's political enemies. The plan would inject the soldiers of fortune into a nearly decade-old civil war that - fueled by internal instability and foreign meddling in the oil-rich North African nation - has killed thousands of Libyans and displaced many times more. The general gave the operation the green light.
By June 18th, 2019, the operation, named "Project Opus," was in the final stages of planning, as the mercenaries and their backers attempted to assemble the equipment Haftar had been promised. But they hit a snag when the Kingdom of Jordan refused to sell military helicopters to the group. The mercenaries' cover story was that they were headed to Libya to support energy-development projects, but Jordanian military officials had grown suspicious because of the equipment being stockpiled.
Professional mercenaries pride themselves on discretion, but this group's tradecraft was laughable. A former Australian Air Force pilot sent to Jordan to inspect the helicopters identified himself as "Gene Rynack." The code name was a nod to "Gene Ryack," the fictional arms-dealer-turned-heroin-smuggler in Air America, a film about private CIA aviation contractors during the Vietnam War. (Think of a spy with the cover name "James Bonde.") Rynack - whose real name is Christiaan "Serge" Durrant - suggested to Jordanian officials that he had clearances from "everywhere," effectively attempting to bluff them into believing he had the approval of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Suspicious Jordanian officials dug deeper and found that the operation was a private one that no country had officially sanctioned, and the sale never went through.
Lacking the Jordanian choppers, the mercenaries and their backers scrambled to find replacements, which included trying to buy equipment from private sources. "Opus are now executing their contingency plan1 for non-government support," a member of Project Opus wrote in a June 18th, 2019, communiqué seen by Rolling Stone. "This places considerable legal risk on Opus and is beyond the scope of the agreed contract."
The scramble for new aircraft proved at least partially unsuccessful, and when the mercenaries arrived in Libya, they failed to deliver the military equipment their contract called for. Haftar was furious. The mercenaries - a team of a dozen South Africans, five Brits, two Australians, and one American - feared for their lives and fled the country, hopping into inflatable speedboats for a desperate, 18-hour, 350-mile journey across the Mediterranean to Malta. Police detained them on arrival.
The failed Project Opus has since become the subject of a United Nations investigation, which includes a detailed and damning portrait in a 61-page report issued in June. This account of the failed operation in Libya is based on that report, which Rolling Stone obtained.
Still, much remains unknown about the mission. Who was putting up the funds to back Haftar's attempted overthrow? Who was organizing the mission outside of Libya? And who, approached by a group of mercenaries claiming they were supporting "energy development" projects in a war-torn country, was willing to sell deadly weapons into a nation already consumed by violence?
U.N. investigators are struggling to make sense of who was attempting to get Haftar the personnel and equipment for his planned strike. A complex shell of at least 10 companies in four countries "increased the opacity of the procurement operations and attempted to disguise the identity of the overall planners," the U.N. panel wrote. But when the mercenaries scrambled to find private sellers for the aircraft Jordan wouldn't provide, they left a trail of clues about how the operation came together. And a lot of those clues point in the direction of Erik Prince.
Erik Prince declined repeated requests to comment for this story, including questions about whether he was involved in any way with Project Opus. Prince's attorney, Matthew Schwartz, of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, engaged in extensive off-the-record discussions with Rolling Stone over the course of three weeks. He ultimately declined to provide on-the-record responses to Rolling Stone's inquiries.
Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar, practice firing a Kalashnikov assault rifle as they rest following clashes with militants in Benghazi's central Akhribish district in November 2017.
Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images
Before he was a cheerleader for American military adventurism, before he spent years trying to ingratiate himself in President Trump's circle while pushing the White House to let him privatize the war in Afghanistan, before his decade as a globe-trotting war profiteer with close ties to ethically questionable regimes, and before he became a symbol of the failures of the war in Iraq when employees of his company, Blackwater, killed more than a dozen unarmed civilians at a Baghdad traffic circle, Erik Prince was the only son of a wealthy Michigan family with an array of opportunities in front of him.
Prince's father, Edgar, had made a fortune selling General Motors the lighted mirror on cars' sun visors. Erik Prince, Edgar's youngest child, flitted between career tracks in his early years. He enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy after high school, but he quit in a fit of pique after three semesters when he was written up for tardiness, according to Master of War, a biography of Prince by Suzanne Simons. In his senior year at Hillsdale College, he scored a coveted White House internship during the first Bush administration. But he left six months later, upset, among other reasons, that "homosexual groups" had been invited in, according to an article printed at the time in The Grand Rapids Press. He later became an intern at the office of former California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who sent him on fact-finding missions around the globe, according to Erik Prince's own 2013 book, Civilian Warriors.
A revealing passage in Prince's book suggests his father harbored concerns about his only son's early lack of focus. Edgar Prince inserted a clause in his will stipulating that Erik, the youngest of his four children, wouldn't receive any inheritance until he turned 30.
The younger Prince's life hit a major pivot, however, in 1992, when he left politics to be commissioned as a naval officer and join the elite Navy SEALs. His father, won over by his son's perseverance, dropped the clause out of the will.
After his father's death in 1995 at age 63 from a heart attack, Prince resigned his military commission and used his share of the family fortune to build Blackwater USA, which began life as a cross between a shooting range and training facility for special-operations personnel near North Carolina's Great Dismal Swamp. After 9/11, the company grew rapidly as it filled the government's need to protect its personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater would go on to bill the U.S. government for more than $1 billion over its lifetime.
Early on, Blackwater earned high marks by providing highly trained ex-Special Ops personnel to protect Department of State and CIA officers in Iraq and Afghanistan. "They were lifesavers," said Doug Wise, a former CIA officer who served in Afghanistan in the early days of the U.S.-led war there. Prince's men won plaudits for going above and beyond the call to rescue diplomats and civilians in distress.
After the invasion of Iraq, however, Blackwater grew far faster than Prince's ability to manage it. The firm became, in Prince's words, "something resembling its own branch of the military" - though others faulted the company for what they saw as a cavalier, cowboy attitude. There weren't enough retired special-forces veterans to meet the U.S. government's staffing needs, and Blackwater began to hire less experienced, far less skilled personnel to meet demand. "They just ran out of people of the quality they needed," a former senior U.S. military commander in Iraq tells Rolling Stone.
Prince's rising stock in post-9/11 America was also driven by his work with the CIA. According to Prince, he became an official asset, putting himself and his company's resources at the spy agency's disposal. Rolling Stone obtained an unpublished chapter of Prince's book, which the CIA has blocked from release because it delves into Prince's classified work. In the chapter, Prince describes how, in addition to training CIA operatives and maintaining the agency's drone fleet, he helped set up a program to train a terrorist hit squad at the behest of the spy agency. Prince writes that over three years beginning in 2004, he spent a "few million" recruiting and organizing a team of about a dozen foreign mercenaries. The CIA gave him a codename: "Hans."
Prince says the off-the-books program had support at the West Wing of the White House and with then-Vice President Dick Cheney. "The program was so secret, I was told that Cheney instructed the agency not to even brief Congress about it," Prince wrote in the unpublished chapter. According to Vanity Fair, the operatives tracked an Al Qaeda financier in Germany and went to Dubai hunting a Pakistani scientist who spilled nuclear secrets, but they never got the go-ahead to pull the trigger. The CIA reimbursed him for about $1 million, Prince says in his unpublished chapter.
This was the apex of Blackwater, but it soon fell apart - with deadly consequences. On September 16th, 2007, Blackwater personnel shot and killed 14 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, a traffic circle in Baghdad, and wounded 18 more. The next day, the Iraqi government announced that it would revoke Blackwater's license to operate and demanded to prosecute the Blackwater guards. The New York Times reported that Blackwater continued to operate in Iraq after Blackwater's president authorized bribes of about $1 million to Iraqi officials, a charge Prince later dismissed as "false." But the uproar over the Nisour Square massacre pushed the Bush administration and Congress to investigate the company.
Erik Prince, then the chairman and CEO of the Prince Group and Blackwater USA, holds up a picture showing the effect of a car bomb as he testifies to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in October 2007. The committee was hearing testimony from officials regarding private-security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
The United States promised to handle the case, which has dragged on for years. Last year, one of the guards convicted in the massacre, Nicholas Slatten, was sentenced to life in prison, and three others were resentenced to lengthy terms behind bars. Lawyers representing victims and their families in the Nisour Square massacre obtained a confidential settlement with Blackwater.
While the Nisour Square case was slowly working its way through the legal system, Prince's off-the-books CIA work met a swift, unceremonious end at the hands of the incoming Obama administration. New CIA director Leon Panetta shut down Prince's anti-terrorist hit squad. The company, Panetta found, was "free-wheeling" and doing stuff on their own. "It had gotten to the point where they really felt that because of what they were doing, they were somehow entitled to do it their way. That's kind of what really concerned me," Panetta tells Rolling Stone.
After Panetta briefed members of Congress on Prince's activities, Prince's role in the CIA program leaked to the media. Prince felt badly burned, and he took his frustrations out by telling Vanity Fair about his CIA work, which burned his bridges at the spy agency. "The last thing [the CIA] wants, Panetta tells Rolling Stone, "is a yahoo who's trying to play up what he's doing as a lone-wolf approach to doing justice for the country."
It's hard to overstate the anger and bitterness that Prince feels over his treatment by the CIA and Congress. Most Americans were introduced to Prince when he took the witness seat before the Democrat-led congressional committee investigating Blackwater. In an early version of Prince's book obtained by Rolling Stone, he is unsparing in his description of the committee chairman, former Rep. Henry Waxman (a "little bald man" with a "high, oily forehead" and "porcine nose" who "spoke through yellowed buck teeth").
For Prince, the final indignity came when he lost Blackwater, selling off the company in 2010 after the firm settled a host of federal investigations by agreeing to pay a $42 million fine to the U.S. government.
After burning intelligence-community bridges and facing a host of Blackwater-related lawsuits, Prince spent the next few years in a sort of self-imposed exile. He set about rebuilding his business by offering security services to some of the most repressive regimes in the world, and increasingly, Prince found himself in ethically and legally dubious territory.
In 2010, Prince, four of his children, and the family dog moved full-time to Abu Dhabi. It was "a bit of an oasis, literally in the desert, of peace and tranquility," he called it in his testimony before Congress in 2017. Abu Dhabi was thousands of miles away from the "jackals," as he put in an interview with Men's Journal, who wanted his money. Documents seen by Rolling Stone show Prince reported an estate of more than $50 million at the time. Prince set about building what The New York Times described as a secret, 800-man mercenary army able to put down threats to the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayad al-Nahyan, commonly known as MBZ.
The relationship eventually soured, however, and Prince believes the Obama administration made that happen. A former associate tells Rolling Stone that Prince once told him that he became persona non grata with the Emiratis after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called MBZ's mother to tell her that her son would be wise to cut ties. "I think the Obama administration went out of their way to tarnish my ability to do business in the Middle East," he told Congress a few years later. (Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Secretary Clinton, denied that she had played a role in disrupting his business. "It's not true, but not a surprise given Erik Prince's track record of being equal parts conspiracy theorist and full of shit," Merrill tells Rolling Stone.)
Prince looked further afield and found a new vein of overseas wealth to tap in China. In 2012, Prince traveled to China to offer investors there an opportunity to bankroll African mining and energy projects. Chinese investors didn't bite, but he came away with another deal: an offer to serve as chairman of Frontier Services Group, a Hong Kong-based company that's backed in part by CITIC Group, a Chinese state conglomerate. The role, experts told The Washington Post, "puts [Prince] in the unsettling position of advancing the strategic agenda of the United States' largest rival."
The initial focus of the company was providing security and logistics in Africa, but Gregg Smith, the former chief executive of Frontier Services Group, tells Rolling Stone that he resigned after learning at a March 2016 board meeting that Frontier Services Group had become, in effect, an arm of the Chinese state run by Americans. The new focus of FSG was to be providing security for China's Belt-and-Road initiative, a colossal project that aims to increase China's global influence by building infrastructure projects across the developing world.
"Going forward, we were told, Frontier Services Group is Erik Prince, it's CITIC, and it'll be providing security for Belt-and-Road," Smith says. In addition, Smith tells Rolling Stone he was disturbed when, he says, the CIA told him that a key company official was affiliated with Chinese intelligence.
As well as furthering China's aims abroad, a Frontier Services Group press release suggests that it may be helping the Chinese Communist Party's domestic repression. In 2018, Frontier Services Group announced it was building "training facilities" and related "security equipment" in Xinjiang province, home to 11 million Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority that has been brutally repressed by the Chinese state. Nearly 1 million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minority groups are held in extrajudicial detention in camps in Xinjiang, according to a group of experts cited by the United Nations. The U.S. government has sanctioned companies implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Prince has said that his own company's press release was wrong; FSG was not building a training facility in Xinjiang, rather it was providing "construction services." Prince also has said that the work being done by FSG is meant to protect Chinese enterprises in Africa and Asia, not to support China's domestic police or military.
Frontier Services Group did not return messages left seeking comment.
The ties between FSG and China were of enough interest to the FBI that the bureau recently spoke with Smith about American FSG personnel in China other than Prince. The conversation also touched on other matters, including what Smith calls Prince's self-dealing at the company - a major factor in Smith's decision to quit, he tells Rolling Stone. While Prince spent much of the Obama administration abroad, he never gave up on regaining the influential (and lucrative) place he once had in the military-industrial complex. And he saw his chance for a homecoming with the rise of Donald Trump.
This photo taken on June 4th, 2019, shows the Chinese flag behind razor wire at a housing compound in Yangisar, south of Kashgar, in China's western Xinjiang region, a region whose Uighur minority is straitjacketed by surveillance and mass detentions.
Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
"Did Julian Assange chicken out?" Erik Prince asked.
The 2016 election was a month away, and Prince was emailing and texting with Roger Stone, Trump's longtime political adviser, to find out what was going on with Wikileaks. Prince wanted to know if Julian Assange, Wikileaks' founder, was still planning to release a trove of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
"The payload is still coming," Stone told Prince.
Later that day, Prince texted Stone again. "Did you hear anything more from London?" Assange was then holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the British capital.
"Yes," Stone replied. "Want to talk on a secure line?"
Assange had not chickened out. A few days later - hours after Trump was caught on tape bragging about serially sexually assaulting women - Wikileaks began releasing the hacked emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
The back-and-forth between Prince and Stone was made public by prosecutors at Stone's 2019 trial over lying to Congress, but Rolling Stone has learned that the two were also engaged in another anti-Clinton, pro-Trump effort. Prince was helping Stone with a project that aimed at dampening black voter turnout during the 2016 election. In an email sent in late October 2016 and obtained by Rolling Stone, Prince encouraged his contacts to donate to the voter outreach and suppression project, which he openly acknowledged was "targeted at the black community to help them think twice about supporting Hillary and her deadbeat husband."
The effort involved Danney Williams, who claims to be the illegitimate son of former President Bill Clinton and an African American prostitute. Prince was soliciting contributions for the Committee for American Sovereignty Education Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization that was helping Williams tell his story in videos and interviews on "urban radio" in cities with large African American populations, including Detroit, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Prince attached a plan for what was called "Project Clintonson," which made its goals abundantly clear: "We do not need to make major gains among African American voters, we merely need to dampen turn out and make it difficult for black Democratic elected officials in Hillary's pocket [to] turn out black voters at Obama-like levels."
On October 3rd, 2016, Stone emailed Prince a link to a story in the conservative blog Gateway Pundit about Williams with the subject line, "It has begun."
"Funds sent," Prince replied. "More to come."
Prince's relationship and giddy correspondence with Stone, who would later be convicted of lying to Congress about his dealings with Wikileaks, came amid Prince's efforts to climb the ladder into Trumpworld. For Prince, facing irrelevance in Washington power politics after his Blackwater debacle and acrimonious relationship with the Obama-Clinton Democratic party, Trump was a way back into the upper echelon.
A recently released memorandum summarizing Prince's April 2018 interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by Buzzfeed and CNN, reveals that initially Prince had not supported Trump, but as the campaign heated up, he found he agreed with Trump's positions. Prince knew a host of Trump campaign officials and went on hunting trips with the president's sons, according to a memo of the FBI's interview with Steve Bannon, the Trump campaign's CEO.
Early on, Bannon was a key point of contact. Prince would forward his ideas to Bannon, including one memo in which Prince told Bannon the Trump campaign should focus on developing America's capabilities in what Prince called the "dark arts," which included "political and surrogate warfare, covert action, sabotage, information war, propaganda, etc."
The political "dark arts" were very much on Prince's mind during the 2016 campaign. Prince arranged a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr. and the head of Psy Group, an Israeli company that specializes in social media manipulation, according to the Mueller Report. The report also noted that Prince helped pay for an effort to validate a purported tranche of Hillary Clinton emails, which turned out to be bogus. He also remained in frequent contact with Stone, another practitioner of the political dark arts, throughout the campaign. In April and May of 2016, around the time Trump declared himself the "presumptive nominee" of the Republican Party, Prince and Stone spoke by phone 67 times, according to the final volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on Trump and Russia.
Prince has denied that he had any formal or informal role in the campaign. He told Mueller's office he met Trump briefly on three occasions during the campaign. The FBI memo of the conversation noted, however, that Prince had Trump's phone numbers in his cellphone. Prince also spent election night at Trump Tower, watching the voting returns. After the election, Prince kept his Trump ties.
In January of 2017, Prince flew to the Seychelles, an island archipelago off the coast of East Africa, to meet with a Russian government official who was looking to make contacts with the incoming administration. The Russian official was Kirill Dmitriev, a former Goldman Sachs banker who headed Russia's $10 billion sovereign wealth fund, which was subject to U.S. sanctions. Dmitriev reported directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he referred to as his "boss." Prince told Mueller's office that he and Dmitriev spent most of their time discussing oil prices.
Prince told Congress under oath that he and Dmitriev met once in the Seychelles. He later conceded they met twice. (According to the Mueller Report, the second meeting came at Prince's request, so he could tell Russia, via Dmitriev, that he didn't want Russia meddling in Libya; the North African nation was "off the table.") Also contrary to what he told the House, Prince told Robert Mueller's investigators that he had reported back to Bannon about his meeting with Dmitriev, texting him from the Seychelles and briefing him upon his return home. The FBI found those text messages had disappeared from both men's phones, and neither man, when asked by the bureau, could explain why, according to FBI summaries of the interviews. (Bannon told the FBI that Prince never told him he met with a Russian government official.)
In 2019, the House intelligence committee referred Prince to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution on perjury charges stemming from his deceptive account of the Seychelles meeting. "The evidence strongly suggests that he willingly misled our committee," said Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee. The Wall Street Journal reported in February that prosecutors were nearing a decision on whether to charge Prince. ("There is nothing new here," Prince's attorney, Matthew Schwartz, told the Journal, adding that Prince had "cooperated completely" in Mueller's investigation. "Erik Prince's House testimony has been public for more than a year.") The investigation appears to have stalled in the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr.
Smoke fumes rise above buildings in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, during reported shelling by strongman Khalifa Haftar's forces this May.
Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images
After Trump's 2016 election, Prince set about trying to rebuild his military contracting empire. "Prince's main policy desire was to have a president that would be open to private contractors conducting stability operations," reads the FBI memo of Prince's conversation with Mueller's investigators. But whatever influence Prince amassed courting Bannon and the Trump family, it hasn't been enough to realize his dream of rebuilding his business - at least not yet.
After Trump took office, Prince drafted a proposal to have roughly 6,000 private contractors replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan. A carefully crafted pitch and selective leaks to reporters were designed to catch the eye of an easily distracted president. Prince likened the privatization of the war in Afghanistan to Trump's 1980s remake of Wollman Skating Rink in New York's Central Park, as shown in a photo of Prince's presentation published by The Atlantic.
Defense Secretary James Mattis shot down the proposal, telling reporters "When Americans put their nation's credibility on the line, privatizing it is probably not a wise idea."
But Mattis is now long gone, and Prince hasn't given up. Every few months, he appears on Tucker Carlson's Fox News show, making the same pitch to the network's most important viewer. "For less than 6,000 contractors remaining, you can keep the Afghan government upright," Prince told Carlson in July, when he appeared on the same show with his sister, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Prince still hasn't gotten the military contract he had been lobbying for, but his other adventures in Trumpworld have recently come back to bite him. Prince was a member of the advisory board of a charity Bannon was promoting to raise private funds to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bannon was indicted in August on charges he defrauded donors to the "We Build a Wall" campaign. Prince said on Fox News Radio that he never attended any board meetings and had no part in fundraising or oversight. "If I saw something unsavory, I would have done something about it," he said.
Maybe so, but Prince's legal and ethical issues have multiplied since Trump took office. He made a not-so-secret trip to Venezuela where he reportedly met with a top aide to President Nicolas Maduro, who is the subject of U.S. sanctions. Citing two unnamed senior U.S. officials, the Associated Press reported that Prince was referred to the U.S. Treasury Department for possible sanctions violations. Both Prince and the Trump administration have denied that he was acting on behalf of the U.S. government; Bloomberg LP reported that according to people familiar with the matter, he was scouting gold investments. (Prince's lawyer, Matthew Schwartz, told Bloomberg his client went to Caracas "as a private citizen" and "received clear legal guidance which he scrupulously followed. While there, he did not discuss any business nor did he receive anything of value.")
And there may be more trouble on the horizon with the U.N. investigation into Libya.
Mercenary operations are designed to leave no trace. Opaque corporate shells have frustrated investigators trying to understand who was behind the mercenary operation in Libya.
Given the challenges of investigating the murky world of private military contracting, it's surprising we know as much as we do about the Libya plot, thanks in part to the Keystone Kops nature of the operation.
Prince's name doesn't appear in the U.N. report, and his spokesman told The New York Times in March that Prince had "nothing whatsoever to do with any alleged private military operation in Libya." However, the latest U.N. report names Prince's company, Frontier Services Group.
When the failed deal with the Kingdom of Jordan left the mercenaries searching for replacement aircraft in June 2019, one of the planes that showed up was a Soviet-era Antonov 26B. It was hastily acquired from an aviation subsidiary of Frontier Services Group, according to the U.N. report. Prince has been a key part of the Hong Kong-based logistics firm since 2014.
According to U.N. investigators, the money for the plane changed hands right as the plane arrived in Jordan, dispensing with the lengthy due diligence and inspections typical for aircraft sales. "This is indicative of a need to deploy an asset very quickly," the U.N. report states. "The panel finds it almost certain that the asset was already under the control of an individual or entity related to the operation."
Gregg Smith, the former CEO of Frontier Services Group, tells Rolling Stone that the aircraft is one both he and Prince know well: It was one of Prince's favorites. "Why would you need to do due diligence on a plane that you know so well?" Smith said. "That's the only way it could have transferred in a day."
While the plane seems to be the clearest link to Prince's world, a host of figures linked to the Blackwater founder also took part in the operation. Three companies and 21 individuals from six different countries involved in the operation are now represented by Vince Gordon, a lawyer in Abu Dhabi who has previously performed legal work for Prince's businesses. The U.N. report says it's "beyond the possibility of coincidence" that 21 people and three companies involved in the operation all have the same lawyer. The concerted defense "establishes" that those responsible for the mercenary operation are now coordinating a response to the U.N. inquiry.
One of the people Gordon is representing is Christiaan "Serge" Durrant, the man who the U.N. report says was calling himself "Gene Rynack," a longtime associate and former employee of Prince's who still considers him a friend. The U.N. report concludes that Durrant was "at least complicit in the planning and execution of a military operation in support of an armed group in Libya." ("Mr. Durrant is not aware of any role Mr. Prince has played in connection with the matters purportedly reported on in the U.N. report," Gordon tells Rolling Stone. He also denied that Durrant is involved in a contract with General Haftar. )
Another link to Prince's world is a Maltese arms dealer named James Fenech, another of Prince's former business associates, who, according to an earlier U.N. report, leased some of the boats that were used in the operation.
The New York Times quoted an unnamed spokesman for Prince as saying that Prince had "nothing whatsoever to do with any alleged private military operation in Libya." And it's possible that all these ties are a coincidence. But it strains credulity to believe that Prince had nothing to do with or no knowledge of an operation that involves his company's plane, at least two of his former business associates, and a former lawyer for his businesses - all allegedly involved in a planned operation in a country in which he has repeatedly shown intense interest.
A fighter loyal to Libya's internationally recognized Government of National Accord prepares to fire a machine gun as a press photographer take pictures of the scene during clashes against forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar in May 2019, in the Airport Road Area, south of Tripoli.
Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images
Private military contracting is a word-of-mouth business, and Prince has built up a valuable network of mercenaries who can fight private wars around the world on short notice. "Because it's illicit, it's all who you know, and it's all vouching for people," says Sean McFate, an ex-Army paratrooper and former private military contractor who has written a book on the industry, The New Rules of War. In McFate's view, back-to-back fiascos in Libya also fit with how some in the mercenary world view Prince. "He's an attention-seeking Kardashian who's largely despised," McFate says. "On top of that, he's a failure as a mercenary ... He doesn't have any successful operations."
While the U.N. tries to untangle Project Opus, nearly a dozen people marked for kill or capture in the 2019 Libya mission are lucky the operation was such a boondoggle. The U.N. report notes that two of the men targeted for assassination in Libya, Mahdi al-Harrati, a former mayor of Tripoli, and Husam "Irish Sam" Najjar, had Irish citizenship. (U.N. investigators say they have not yet determined who presented the idea of killing the men to Haftar in the Cairo cafe and whether it was that person or the general who came up with the idea for a kill list.)
After the disastrous misadventure from 2019, a new group of mercenaries and a few veterans from the previous short-lived operation were hired for another attempt on Tripoli. According to the U.N. report, the soldiers of fortune traveled to Dubai, and then were told to head to nearby Abu Dhabi. There, they learned their mission would be a repeat of the first one. U.N. investigators are examining whether Prince had any involvement with the second planned assault on Tripoli and whether he attended a briefing for the mercenaries in Abu Dhabi.
The second planned incursion in Libya, like the earlier one, ran aground. The U.N. report notes that what it calls "Project Opus 2" was similar to the original, with the use of helicopters and light aircraft to support Haftar's forces in Libya. The mercenaries deployed to Egypt and then arrived in Libya. They had been told that they had a clear path to Tripoli, but the Turks, who back the government in Tripoli, were protecting the city with air defenses that could shred a helicopter as well as surface-to-air missiles. The mercenaries, realizing they had no chance of success, quickly left.
Libya has attracted soldiers of fortune from around the globe, sort of like the Star Wars cantina for mercenaries. Russia's Wagner Group is said to be operating in the country, along with fighters from Syria and elsewhere. Prince has been fascinated with Libya for years, in part because the United States has a limited footprint there. He told Mueller's office that he has focused on "peripheral" areas, such as Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, where the Department of Defense does not have a significant presence. Prince also has an eye for resource-rich countries in Africa, and Libya's large reserves of cheap, sweet crude oil make an enticing prospect.
Whatever the truth is about Prince and Libya, what's clear is that Prince's wealth has enabled a chaotic and uneven business career with a track record of collapsed companies, burnt bridges, and accusations of ethical lapses and callous disregard for the lives of non-Americans. He is in many ways an echo of Trump: a relentless self-promoter, brimming with a confidence in his own capabilities and a belief that there is no problem he cannot solve - despite the failures from Nisour Square on.
Prince paints himself as continually undercut by unscrupulous enemies in the Democratic Party, but some of his colleagues say his problems are of his own making. "He is selling the Erik Prince show," says one former associate who has known him for years. "And he does not know what he's doing." An international security investigator laughs at the mention of Prince's name, saying "You mean the world's worst mercenary?"
"I respect Erik's intellect," says another former associate. "I have less than zero respect for his ethics."
The criticisms haven't kept Prince from pushing his next big idea. Prince has hung on to the Blackwater trademark for all these years, and he recently announced that the company is once again providing security services, although Prince was vague about the details.
"Blackwater is back," Prince said in a Fox News Radio interview in August "and hopefully, much to the consternation of the raging, loony left."
Andy Kroll contributed to this report.
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De Oppresso Liber,

David Maxwell
Senior Fellow
Foundation for Defense of Democracies
Personal Email: david.maxwell161@gmail.com
Phone: 202-573-8647
Web Site:  www.fdd.org
Twitter: @davidmaxwell161
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If you do not read anything else in the 2017 National Security Strategy read this on page 14:

"A democracy is only as resilient as its people. An informed and engaged citizenry is the fundamental requirement for a free and resilient nation. For generations, our society has protected free press, free speech, and free thought. Today, actors such as Russia are using information tools in an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of democracies. Adversaries target media, political processes, financial networks, and personal data. The American public and private sectors must recognize this and work together to defend our way of life. No external threat can be allowed to shake our shared commitment to our values, undermine our system of government, or divide our Nation."